Shane Young is quick to admit the superficial motives behind his rise into the UFC.
In the quest for money and fame, Young worked his way through the mixed martial arts scene before landing in the UFC – taking his first win midway through last year.
That win brought him the riches and fame he thought he wanted, but rather than a feeling of satisfaction, the young fighter just felt empty.
After taking time away from the sport and getting back to his roots in Napier, Young returned with a new outlook on life – and a new reason to step into the octagon.
The 25-year-old made his return to the UFC at the weekend, taking a unanimous decision win over American Austin Arnett. Impressive as his fight was, it was what happened afterwards that saw Young garner attention across the globe.
Rather than taking the opportunity to call out another fighter, Young looked down the barrel of the camera and addressed New Zealand's high youth suicide rates.
"I know what you're going through. Just reach out to someone, talk," he said. "It's all good, we don't have to be (physically) strong. You can be strong by reaching out."
"We're a community as people, you know, so you gotta use those people around you…I love you guys OK."
In 2017, a UNICEF report listed New Zealand as having the highest rate of youth suicide in the developed world. Between July 2017 and June 2018, 668 people in New Zealand were ruled to have died by suicide – the highest number since records began.
Of those 668, the highest age bracket was 20-24 year olds with 76 deaths, while there were 65 deaths among people aged 25 to 29. Māori people had the highest rate by ethnicity, with 142 deaths.
"25-year-old Māori men and women, they're committing suicide at the highest rate in the world, per capita. That's messed up," Young told media after his win at UFC 234. "One of the most beautiful countries in the world has the highest suicide rate. I know, last year, two kids under 13 who killed themselves.
"I know it sounds bad to say after a fight that we have the highest youth suicide rates, but I'm going to keep saying it until it's the opposite."
The 25-year-old featherweight has found meaning in promoting good mental health and has been a big advocate of the benefits of kōrero. This year, he's giving his time to coach alongside fellow UFC star Dan Hooker in the I.T Heavy Hitters charity boxing event, raising funds for the Key to Life charitable trust which aims to affect positive social change surrounding suicide prevention, awareness and mental health in New Zealand.
Young now uses his platform to spread a positive message and said he wants to be the role model he never had as a child.
"In the last year and a half, mental health awareness has been really on the rise and I think it's a symptom of it being pushed aside for a long time," he explained.
"We need everyone to be doing it. There's seven billion people in the world, they're not all going to see me fight, see that video and be like 'yeah, I'm not going to make that choice now, Shane. I will reach out.'
"Every fight card almost, someone's got to be talking about it because as tough as we are, we inspire a lot of young kids. For them to look at us being really tough...it would be awesome for them to go 'oh, he's just like me he's just 25 now. I can be tough like that when I get older as well.' I just want to keep that up."
WHERE TO GET HELP:
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.
OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:
• 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757 or TEXT 4202