WARNING: This article is about suicide and mental health issues and may be distressing for some readers.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, an annual initiative of the International Association for Suicide Prevention.

The organisation says around the world more than 800,000 people die by suicide every year. That's about one person every 40 seconds. Globally, it's the 15th leading cause of death, accounting for 1.4 per cent of all deaths.

In New Zealand, the number of suicides continues to climb. Provisional statistics released by the Chief Coroner last month show 668 people died by suicide in the year to June 30, a new high.


READ MORE: Health Minister - there's more help to come

But many more people survive mental health problems and suicide attempts to lead rich, fulfilling lives. Others find ways to cope with the loss of loved ones. Today, we're sharing inspirational stories of everyday Kiwis who have survived and thrived.

They were collected with Voices of Hope, an organisation founded by mental illness survivors Genevieve Mora and Jazz Thornton. It helps those struggling with mental health issues by promoting mental wellbeing, empowerment and recovery.

Their message: There is always hope - don't be afraid to talk and ask for help.

Bary Neal, 51

Photo / Otago Daily Times
Photo / Otago Daily Times

Bary recently moved to Dunedin after 50 years in Blenheim. With wife Wendy, he organised the first Blenheim Hopewalk, a community movement aimed at suicide prevention and awareness, taking away the stigma surrounding suicide, and remembering loved ones lost too soon. Almost 1000 people turned out to walk.

I lost my boy Matt to suicide almost two years ago, at the age of 22.

Matt was no different to any other young adult. He was a very handsome, very clever young man who breezed through school.

He was an amazing athlete, a top footballer in Marlborough Senior Men's Division 1, where he was awarded 2015 Player of the Year, and a great friend to many people.


He would do anything for anyone and always put others before himself. His smile was infectious and he always had a way of perking up your day if you were feeling down.

How did he, like so many amazing young people with so much going for them, get to the stage where he felt the only option was to take his own life?

I had never dealt with mental health agencies and was under the assumption Matt did not need their services either.

That's the problem – people are so good at hiding their problems we don't realise they need help. Some are too ashamed, others don't want to be a burden, and others have been told to harden up and get over it.

What a stupid idea. How is a person at the lowest point in their entire life supposed to just get over it by themselves? Those ideas come from people who are too afraid to, don't know how to, or just can't be bothered helping.

What a huge difference it would make if people (and males in particular) started listening, caring and offering to help whenever they could.

Sometimes it is as simple as checking on a mate you know is in a dark place.

Leading up to losing my boy, I went through a marriage break-up and had my hips replaced, which put a stop to most of the sports I played.

Losing my boy put me in a dark place where I just wanted to stay at home and hide from everyone.

My best mate came around every few days to check on me, not knowing how low I actually was. Like most males, I was putting on a front.

Just by showing up for a coffee and chat, he had no idea how much he was helping. I realised I was doing what most males do, trying to put on a brave face and hide the real hurt. It could have been so different without my mate.

I was looking at the slideshow of my boy's life recently. I realised that when people get into a really dark time they forget about all the amazing times they have had. Don't let one dark time take away from all those amazing times. If you are in that dark place right now, never be afraid to open up and ask for help, never try and tough it out alone.

We should all check on our mates and family. Let people know you are there for them and offer to help in any way possible. Never judge others, you have no idea what is going on in their lives.

Every decision we make defines our future. Since losing Matt, I have made some good decisions. I recently married the most amazing lady on earth and am loving life again.

Did life change after losing my son? Yes, and it will never be the same again. Tears flow regularly but my boy is looking down on me, wanting me to be happy.

I know that by being happy and positive I get to enjoy life a lot more and get to help others going through a similar time to what my boy went through.

Reach out, ask for help, never try to tough it out alone, and never be too proud, shy, embarrassed, or scared to ask for help. I'm always here if anyone needs a non-judgemental ear.

Amy Crerar, 20

Photo / Michael Craig
Photo / Michael Craig

Amy recently returned to Auckland after a year at Victoria University in Wellington. She is studying a Bachelor of Arts in English and psychology but has chosen to take a year off to focus on her health. She strives to utilise her love for writing, studies and personal experience in mental health to support others in their journey.

I thought it would never end, the cycle of feel-too-much, feel-too-little, repeat. My life was all extremes, a whirlwind of chaos and confusion, and to exist in such a world was exhausting.

Over the last five years I have battled with anorexia, anxiety and depression, all of which chased me down a path I thought I would never come back from.

At the age of 15 I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and admitted into hospital at a critically low weight. Little did I know that I would land myself here another four times between 2013 and 2015, attempting to take my life more than once in the process.

The negative rhythm of my thoughts became my primary focus, leaving me with little energy or motivation to interact with the outside world. I was rarely able to attend school and missed out on most of my high school education.

I had completely isolated myself from my nearest and dearest and most of my time was spent criticising myself for the things that I could not do/the person that I could not be.

We all have days when we feel a little stale and frustrated with life, but this felt perpetual. Days turned into months, and months into years and the battle to keep myself afloat was no longer a battle because I had stopped fighting.

I was no longer able to distinguish my own thoughts from that of the depression/anorexia and there was nothing I wanted more than to erase myself - past, present, and future.

Every 40 seconds, someone commits suicide. Every 41 seconds, someone is left to make sense of it. Either person could have been me, either person could have been you, your brother, sister, mother, father, best friend, colleague, classmate.

As I write I do so with a heavy heart knowing that many of us have arrived at this place, burdened by our fears, secrets and despair.

I don't want to pretend that I have all the answers because I don't, but today, with this message, I will put forward what I know to be true. It is true that I have struggled to make sense of myself, my life and my purpose, and it is true that I still struggle with these things. It is true that I have seen pain, hurt and grief in the world, but it is also true that I have seen wonder.

A year ago, with the support of a few beautiful people around me, I made the decision to embark on a journey of healing. There was no defining moment that prompted me to pursue a fresh start but my motivation to change came when the motivation to stay the same went away.

At first, the freedom I was lusting after presented itself as hopelessly unattainable but little by little I felt myself warming to the possibility of this new life.

Spending time with the people I had shut out for so long, pushing myself into uncomfortable "growth" situations, talking honestly with my therapist, appreciating the small, beautiful things that long to be celebrated - these have all helped me get to the place that I find myself today.

So, keep going. Pause, breathe, cry, do what you need to do - just do not give up; if there is a life beyond what I could see for myself then there is definitely one for you too.

As Helen Keller said: "Although the world is full of suffering it is also full of overcoming it."

Karl Jager, 43

Photo / Paul Taylor
Photo / Paul Taylor

Karl lives in Napier and is supported by an amazing partner and two cats. In his last semester of a Bachelor of Business degree with a double major at Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT), he has just started his own consulting company, Valhalla. He has been a voice for vulnerable people at EIT, especially those with mental health issues.

I'd never had the signs of depression, never thought it could touch me.

I'd always thought those who attempted or committed suicide were weak, that they were cowards for choosing the "easy" way out.

We didn't have much growing up but I wasn't beaten, starved, abused or anything else that often seems to lead people to long-term mental illness. I was, on the whole, a well-rounded and supported kid/young adult.

When I look back it was something of a perfect storm really. Leaving the career I'd wanted my whole life; having inconsistency with jobs and struggling to keep one and be happy in it; my living situation being stressful and finally falling apart; my partner out of nowhere, and with no reason given, saying it was over.

To top all that a very good friend who I'd been in the military and done basic training with took his life - the last person any of us would've thought would do it. No one saw the signs.

For me it all started just after I left the military when my grand-daughter was born. She was rushed to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Wellington from Hawkes Bay and no one could tell us why she was sick.

When I arrived in Wellington the medical staff told me she had about a 30 per cent chance of living.

I needed to know this. I steeled myself to be a pillar for my daughter knowing she would need someone to say it was fine and to know when to make a joke and not show how scared they were feeling.

My grand-daughter lived and gets stronger all the time despite the rough start.

All of this within about six weeks put incredible pressure on me. At the time I was just feeling crushed by it all.

I went to the doctor but felt I was dismissed because I didn't want medication. I just wanted someone who would listen, someone who could try to give some order to what was happening. I don't think they took it seriously when I said I was having some very dark thoughts and was considering killing myself.

I planned it all, and to lessen the hurt had made sure it would appear as a "tragic accident" rather than suicide.

I will forever be grateful to one of my best friends who has always been there for me through a lot of bullshit and has always had my back.

He knows who he is and he knows I wouldn't be here without him. He gave me what the medical professionals couldn't - an ear and a voice without judgement or condemnation.

We still speak on a regular basis and often just make a simple statement like "how are you and yours?", just to let each other know we're there. Sometimes it's a comment on a social media post. Often we just say, "I'm here if you need ANYTHING mate".

Knowing you've got that sort of person in your life, even if you aren't aware of it at the time, is liberating because you can conquer anything if you have someone at your side to give the odd word of encouragement.

Israel Whitley, 24

Photo / Mike Scott
Photo / Mike Scott

Israel was born and bred in Gisborne but has spent his last seven years in Auckland. He has a small but strong group of friends and family supporting him in anything he does. He runs and owns Auckland Labour Hire, which focuses on creating the best environment in the sometimes mentally challenging construction industry.

December 7 2014 was the day my life was first impacted by mental illness. I had a mid-afternoon phone call from a sibling informing me my father had been found dead, but with no explanation of why or how.

I was away from my family, left thinking for seven hours before being reunited with them. It didn't once cross my mind that suicide was my father's cause of death. Then later that evening I was shown a handwritten note from Dad.

Until then, it seemed mental illness only affected people at a distance from me. I had no real connection or experience to it directly.

Aged 20 and living six hours from the family home, dealing with the loss of a father was difficult and created many hurdles for the near and distant future.

His suicide raised many more questions than I expected. 'I thought he was strong?' 'How could you do this to our family?' 'It was his decision wasn't it?' The list could go on.

My coping mechanism was focusing on my passion: Football. All I ever wanted to do as a young boy growing up in Gisborne was to play in the national league.

I had no interest in encouraging sympathy or self-pity. If anything I used my father's suicide to motivate me.

Fifteen months later I was in a hospital bed about to be diagnosed with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. It's a condition in which part of the heart gets thicker and less able to pump blood effectively.

In my case it was caused by over-training. Looking back on the previous 15 months, I realised I had achieved what I wanted to but hadn't even begun to deal with the loss of my father.

I did nothing but mask it to the best of my ability, filling up every second of my spare time training and making an attempt to study and doing whatever else I could just to keep my mind active and focused on other things.

It was at that stage I began to realise things had to be put in place to help me learn about myself and how I could deal with my heavy heart. But I also needed to understand the best I could what my Dad may have been going through to make him do what he did.

During those 15 months I'd gone to see a few counsellors but more at the encouragement of people around me and to keep them happy. Not for my own wellbeing as I didn't think I needed it.

However, a trip to a psychologist's office in Gisborne is to this day one of the most pivotal moments in my life. The connection and understanding I got from even the first session lifted my burden and gave me a huge reason to go forward with my life in the best way possible.

I still see my psychologist every few months and find huge benefits from this. My advice: Seek professional help. Don't feel disheartened if you don't connect with the first few counsellors you see. You'll find the right person to help you. That person is out there.


If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.


KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland (24/7)
NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (24/7)
SAMARITANS – 0800 726 666
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (24/7)
WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz

There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.