Years ago on talkback, when we were discussing New Zealand's appalling suicide statistics for the umpteenth time, a man rang me and told me about his life.

He was a truck driver and he'd been working long hours to look after his young family.

However, the work hours took its toll on his marriage and he and his wife had separated.

She stayed in the family home and he moved out to share a pre-built unit on half a section with another divorced man.


He had to keep doing the long hours because he wanted to support his children. He had high hopes of a reconciliation but he'd been devastated to learn from his wife that she had met another man.

Any money he had left over after paying the bills for his Spartan lifestyle he gave to his family. He didn't want to have the kids around to his place because it was too small and too dingy.

He didn't ever think he would meet another woman because he had no money to go out and socialise. Furthermore, he felt he had nothing to offer a prospective partner even if he met someone he liked.

He challenged the callers, and me, to give him reasons why he should keep on going. The despair and lack of hope was raw and real.

I gave him the Lifeline number and the callers and I tried to give him the usual schtick about how his kids needed him and that he was obviously a caring, hard-working man and would find people who would appreciate his qualities.

I don't know how much good we did. I didn't hear back from him and his call has haunted me ever since. Each year about 400 men take their own lives in this country. I just hope he wasn't one of them.

Our suicide stats make grim reading. We're right up there in the top-ranked countries for male, female and youth suicides and it's a measure of just how important this social problem is that in the same week the Government announced no new spending it pledged more than $60 million to try to improve the mental health of young New Zealanders.

That includes $18.5 million over the next four years to put more nurses and specially trained youth workers into low-decile secondary schools, lifting the number of students covered from 18,000 to 56,000.

Money is to be invested in social media, including e-therapy, computer-administered counselling that young people can access from home.

These moves will be welcomed by agencies working with young people. But Tongan clinical psychologist Dr Siale Foliaki believes we need to be putting resources into preventing mental ill health rather than fixing the problems as they appear.

At a conference in Auckland this week, he said more Government funding was needed for screening for mothers with post-natal depression, as he believed that was where the root of mental illness in young people could be found.

The rate of postnatal depression in this country is 12-14 per cent in the general population but it's 22 per cent among Pasifika mums.

If you helped those mothers, he believed, in the long run, you would help the children.

Obviously alcohol and drugs are contributing factors in our high suicide rate so these will be areas in which health workers will focus.

It would be great to see prevention and cure initiatives being delivered as policy, but better still would be to build a country in which everybody has a stake and feels valued and in which men who are strong and honest and who love their families are able to support them without having to work every hour God sends.

And a country in which young people feel excitement looking ahead to their futures, not dread and fear and alienation. Only then will we see those dreadful statistics start to fall.