There is a simple truth in our world that those of us who attempt to talk about the way feel often come up against a wall of either silence or indifference. Whether it is at home, in the school yard or in the workplace that single reality is one of the major causes of why we don’t seek help, and that often leads to depression, mental illness and, in the very worst cases, the taking of our own lives. In New Zealand 508 people died by suicide in 2013 and in Australia the recent data showed the figure to be just over 2,500. It is suggested that of those who are successful many more make an attempt. The problem affects all aspects of our community from regional and rural to city and suburbia; from middle aged white males to indigenous and aboriginal people; from those having difficulty with sexual orientation to women in their later years. Suicide, depression and mental health affect us all irrespective of our politics, religion, profession, age or gender.
It was across this back drop that I met a New Zealand comedian at a gala dinner last July by the name of Mike King. Now, being a New Zealander you would have expected me to have known who Mike was but because I had been living away from the country of my birth for more than 15 years he was familiar to me but not well known. So, here we were sitting next to each other at dinner in Sydney when the conversation immediately turned to mental health, depression and suicide prevention. Me in my role as Chair of Australia’s National Coalition for Suicide Prevention and Mike in his role as the founder of the Key to Life Charitable Trust in New Zealand as well as an on the edge radio show called the “Nutters Club”. Yes, the “Nutters Club”. The radio show took me a while to understand as we chatted but then Mike basically turned around and said “we called it the nutters club because of the time of night we were on and all the nutters ring in.” What I didn’t know is that this funny man of New Zealand’s comedy and television scene had harbored a challenging life. Drug and alcohol addiction followed by a massive stroke taught him an important lesson and that was “its time to change”.
Step forward a year and I find myself flying into Auckland to be met by Mike after committing to spending a fortnight with him travelling across New Zealand to take a look at the work he is doing in the field of suicide prevention. As the title of this article suggests there is a reason why you need to know this man, Mike King, and the life changing work he is doing.
Our first stop is the New Zealand town of Taumaranui which is a farming center located a few hour’s drive south of Auckland. Mike was there to deliver two talks with the first being to the general community, organised by the local Rotary Club and the Hope Trust, followed by a talk to the local high school the following day. Boy did the community turn out and all the while not because of Mike King the comedian, but Mike King the man and his journey through depression and mental illness. As the talk went on I learnt that what Mike was really talking about was the need to empower our young people to both seek help and know that it was okay to talk about the way we feel. His second message was directed at parents and how we need to spend less time talking down to our children and more time talking with them. That talk to the community would be followed by others in Christchurch and Cambridge. The audience were enamored and instead of asking questions about what “the funniest knock knock joke was” they were all about how to deal with depression, coping mechanisms and even direct advice on how to deal with certain situations.
The following morning we headed to the local high school where kids from intermediate level were also in attendance. Now, keep in mind that these kids didn’t grow up knowing Mike King the comedian as far as they were concerned he was just another guy coming to give a talk about whatever. As Mike began I noticed a marked difference in how he was talking and telling his story. It was a talk that the kids could understand and relate to and if a picture could ever paint a thousand words then it has to be the one below – who would have thought that a talk about suicide prevention and depression could illicit such a response. Mike carried a simple message to the kids that day and it was “it’s ok to reach out and talk about your feelings” and the much more poignant realization to these kids that “each of you are a role model in someone else’s life”. That in itself was a lesson for the kids that the actions they take and the things they say have an impact.
What I also learnt is that this funny man was also not being paid to do what he does. In fact unlike many organisations operating in the field of suicide prevention in New Zealand Mike’s charity, the Key to Life Trust is unfunded by Government. Each of the resources that have been developed have been paid for thanks to Mike’s own bank account and donations from the public. It’s those resources that really surprised me such as his program called “cool to korero” (korero being the Maori word for talk) which is mapped to New Zealand’s national curriculum. That one resource is about as unique as it gets. Then there is the “parent’s guide to depression” and the “15 things you should never say to someone with depression.” In other words resources that everyone can understand and relate to.
The same experience was repeated from Auckland to Christchurch, Wellington to Hamilton, Ohakune to Rotorua – there was never a person that was touched by Mike’s story that then didn’t go away feeling inspired. To put that storytelling into perspective you have to look at the data. Mike has been in front of hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders in recent years via his face to face talks, his radio show and social media presence.
And really that’s why you need to know this man; this funny man who has struggled with depression most of his life, this bloke’s bloke who is both a recovering drug addict and alcoholic; this fella who many New Zealanders see as a funny man of the comedy scene who, in all reality, is probably one of New Zealand’s single greatest forces when it comes to preventing suicide through the simple message of attitudinal and behavioral change.
But don’t believe me, believe the kids:
About the author: Matthew Tukaki is the owner of entrehub.org, Chair of the National Coalition for Suicide Prevention in Australia and a non-executive director of the board of Suicide Prevention Australia
Don’t forget our elders can suffer in silence too: suicide prevention
Many people think that mental health and suicide are not topics that impact our elders but they could not be more wrong. The data tells us there continues to be an emerging trend when it comes to peop...
Wherever you look these days, not matter the developed country, whole population groups and peoples struggle with the daily grind of life. From children in state care to mental health, from affordable housing to the primary health system and from education to employmen...
For the last few years I have been fortunate to have been involved in the aged care sector and have seen both the lows and highs. Today we live in a world where most of us are living longer thank to more awareness around healthy living, the advancement of better medica...
You can’t go past a news paper, radio show or television news story these days without being flooded by all things Bitcoin or Crypto Currency. Some say it’s the new world of money while others suggest its all just a passing fad. Whatever your position or preference of...