Mike King has opened up about how the weight of pressure of being named New Zealander of the Year led to a mental breakdown last month.

King, who has been one of New Zealand's most influential and vital mental health campaigners, told TVNZ the weight of being named New Zealander of the Year and the expectation to help everyone who messages him can take its toll, especially when he receives texts from people saying they're going to take their own life.

"I didn't realise how heavy that mantle is, especially when you're talking about mental health. So when I feel down, I work harder and then I try and fix the world, and I needed to fix everything.

"When you've got over 100,000 people on social media messaging you, texting you – and I'm the guy most likely to say 'yes' because I'm a people-pleaser, I want to please everybody – and the weight of it just started weighing me down.

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"[There are] people texting you going, 'I'm going to take my own life tonight', people ringing you and leaving messages [like], 'You're New Zealander of the Year but you do nothing, you don't deserve it.'"

Comedian and mental health campaigner Mike King. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Comedian and mental health campaigner Mike King. Photo / Michael Cunningham

More than 530,000 people downloaded the New Zealander of the Year frame, making King feel humbled that mental health was being given much-needed spotlight.

And while the weight of expectation has chipped away at King, the mental health campaigner has an important message for Kiwis.

The comedian says New Zealanders need to open up to their friends, family and that if you haven't had a heart-to-heart with someone in the past 12 months, you're part of the problem.

"It's a topic of conversation and we're trying to change the conversation away from 'if you're in crisis, ask for help' to 'if you haven't had a friend talk to you about their problems, you're probably the problem'.

"We all have problems, and if you haven't had a mate come to you in the last 12 months and talk about their feelings – not 'my wife's being horrible' but 'I am feeling like this and I'm feeling like that' – then you're the problem. You need to look in the mirror and ask yourself, 'What am I doing to make it OK for people to ask for help?'"

Mike King speaks at the World Indigenous Suicide Prevention Conference and Youth Summit in 2016. Photo / Ben Fraser
Mike King speaks at the World Indigenous Suicide Prevention Conference and Youth Summit in 2016. Photo / Ben Fraser

King says friends and family need to give permission to friends who aren't in crisis to be able to talk to them about their problems, nipping the problem in the bud before it's too late.

While expectation has been difficult for King, he says he can't shy away from success.

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"When people complimented me, I would push it away, I would push it to one side because that's the Kiwi way – we don't celebrate success, we celebrate other people's success... What you're actually teaching our kids is that you cannot be successful, so instead you should nod, you say 'thank you', you give people a big smile. It took me a while to get that."

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
Samaritans 0800 726 666
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.