WARNING: Subject matter may be distressing
New provisional figures released to the Rotorua Daily Post last week showed 15 people in Rotorua were suspected to have killed themselves in the 15 months to March 2019. There are many people in the community who have been affected by suicide, and a local trust aims to support those affected. Reporter Shauni James went along to its first event, Hīkoi 4 Life, and talked to members of the community there to raise awareness and remember loved ones.
Hands were clasped, hugs were shared and tears fell as people gathered together to not just raise suicide awareness but to connect with and support each other.
Hīkoi 4 Life, hosted by Patua Te Taniwha Charitable Trust, was held at the Lakefront today.
The hīkoi (walk) took place around a track marked out on the Village Green, and the event's aim was to raise suicide awareness, and to connect and support each other in the community.
Moana Makiha arrived at the event holding a photo of her daughter to add to the memorial on display.
She said her daughter, Moanata Janet Karaitiana, was 29 when she died in 2014.
Makiha said it had been out of the blue and unexpected.
"She was living in Hamilton at the time. Her friends said she came back from work and was all happy.
"I got the phone call that night, she was in hospital."
Makiha said her daughter died in the hospital, with life support having to be turned off.
"She was bubbly and full of life. She had her moments and had attitude like all other girls. She had a lot of support from the family."
She left behind three children who were aged 7, 8 and 9 at the time.
Makiha said she missed the way her daughter smiled and laughed. "She had a quirky laugh, and everyone remembers her laugh."
She said it was awesome to see the community coming together for Hīkoi 4 Life.
"I think it's important because nowadays there's still a lot of children and teenagers thinking about suicide."
She said people were more able to speak about suicide now and that it was opening up more into the likes of schools.
"I think we should have more of these events on a regular basis, and for people to come down and support them."
Fleur and Emma were walking around the track together while remembering loved ones.
Fleur said she was there to try and look for grief support and to network with trusts and providers.
She said it took a lot to come out and ask for support.
Emma said she would like to be able to talk with other families about what they were going through and what support they were getting.
"We won't forget. They will never be forgotten."
The Hīkoi 4 Life event featured a number of guest speakers, including mayor Steve Chadwick, Cliff Curtis, Waiariki MP Tamati Coffey, Mihi Smith, Kahira Rata Olley, Suzy Taylor, and Turanga Merito.
There was a sausage sizzle, bottled water and fruit for participants, and spot prize draws.
All funds raised are going to affected whānau and the trust's future suicide awareness events.
Local support services such as Manaaki Ora, Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Pikiao and Korowai Aroha Health Centre were there.
Patua Te Taniwha Charitable Trust chairwoman Mataku-Ariki de Roo said the event was about getting the community to connect and talk about suicide instead of being silent.
She said they wanted to bring people together and create a support system.
"We want whānau and the community to have the courage, and to be encouraged to find tools so we can help ourselves to help each other.
"We just want to empower people to stand up instead of letting suicide win. It does consume a person."
At the event, Chadwick said she loved that Patua Te Taniwha Charitable Trust was talking about where to go for help.
She said the day was a community response and congratulated the trust for making the Hīkoi 4 Life happen.
"You are our local heroes when you say, 'we've got to do something more than what is around us', and when you find different answers that work for an individual, you've got to feed that into systems so that systems are always changing around you."
She said suicide was too prevalent in Rotorua.
"We've all suffered from this and it's very high rates in Rotorua, and we've got to do something about it."
Coffey said it was nice to "feel a bit of solidarity around us as we start talking about this really heavy topic which is suicide".
He said suicide was something that affected all of us, and that there were not many people who had not been touched in one way or another by suicide.
"When suicide happens it's not just the individual that goes, it's a ripple effect among all the friends, all the whānau, and the community as well, so I want to just acknowledge our organisers ... for bringing us together and allowing us to feel this solidarity."
He also acknowledged that in Chadwick's speech she spoke about how the Government could do some things and allocate the money, but at a community level was where the difference was really made.
Coffey encouraged people to open their minds a bit wider to those whānau and friends who were going through a tough time.
He talked about the Wellbeing Budget and the $1.9 billion the Government had allocated to mental health - "and suicide fits into that". This was unprecedented in New Zealand, he said.
"We've done that because that's actually what our people have said that we need to spend our money on, looking after the health of our people."
Coffey said that rolled into the bigger amount specifically set aside for suicide prevention ($200m), and that a portion of that was dedicated strictly to helping Māori whānau to be able to do better when it came to preventing suicide in communities.
During the event, actor Cliff Curtis said he had wanted to show some support for the whānau and to the cause.
"It is really difficult to talk about, and I think that's the reason why I wanted to say something about how difficult it is to speak, because it's hard for me to speak about it so imagine how it is for the people who are going through what they are going through."
He said it started with wanting to talk about it, making it safe to talk about it, and reaching out to those people who felt like they could not talk about it.
"It's just the shame of it really, isn't it, and the sadness of it, that we hate to think of our family members that way. But we have to, we have to think about that possibility for our rangatahi, for our men and women that are going through this.
"It starts at any stage and at any time in life and for reasons that ... we can't ever fully understand. But we can try to understand and try and make it safe for people to talk about it."
Woman speaks about her app for suicide prevention at Hikoi 4 Life
Mihi Smith said it was a beautiful Sunday morning on November 26 when she got the call no parent ever wants to get.
She said her son, in his unwellness, was trying to end his life because the voices were telling him to end his life.
When he called her he was crying and calling out for help.
"My son survived it. I'm so lucky, I thought I had lost him, I really did."
She said you had defining moments in your life and that was one of hers - almost losing one of her five children.
Smith created the idea for the app My Well Tooku Oranga, which people can download for free on IOS Apple and android.
When you become unwell you push one button, it takes you into your own contact page, you select up to five people and a message goes out straight away to the five people saying, "I am unwell. Contact me".
"My son said he had no voice. So we become the voices of the person that's unwell."
She said there had been about 1000 downloads of the app, and five have pushed the emergency button.
"I want this app to be out there and be free to everyone... let's hope with enough people having a talk to each other there is no shame in downloading this app."
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)
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.