By: Olivia Carville

Ezekiel Raui is the creator of Tu Kotahi, a programme that aims to reduce youth suicide in New Zealand. Photo / Mike Scott

Warning: This article is about youth suicide and may be distressing for some readers.

Ezekiel Raui is the brainchild of Tu Kotahi – which means stand as one – a programme created in the wake of one of the biggest youth suicide clusters in New Zealand history.

In 2012, the Northland region lost an unprecedented 19 young people to suicide. Early the following year, former stand-up comedian Mike King was sent to Northland to talk to high school students, including Raui.

Reading the crowd, King decided to can his prepared “funny” speech and spoke off the cuff for an hour about how he had battled with low self-esteem and felt worthless as a teenager.

“For the first time he introduced us to the fact that no one is perfect,” said Raui, a Year 11 student at the time, “that his celebrity status didn’t mean everything’s all right, that everyone has problems now and again and bottling it up isn’t a good way to deal with it.”

Listening to King inspired Raui to come up with a plan of his own. At his kitchen table that night, Raui wrote about the problems facing youth in New Zealand, including how they weren’t being listened to, didn’t feel supported to speak out and how some organisations were “unprepared to help”.

He then wrote about possible solutions, such as students talking to students, peer counsellors and youth workshops.

On one and a half pages of lined A4 paper, Tu Kotahi was born.

Now, almost five years later, the Government has committed to funding the programme in a pilot form. It will be rolled out in four schools across the country early next year to understand how it works.

Raui was invited into the Beehive to meet Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and discuss the trial last week.

“I would like to commend Ezekiel Tamaana Raui for his work, and those who have supported him through this journey,” Coleman said in a written statement to the Herald.

“What makes this programme unique is that it was written by a high school student, for other students,” Coleman said.

Tu Kotahi aims to bridge the communication gap between services and young people suffering from mental health issues. It will equip a core group of 30 students at each school to be mentors and hopes to create a culture where “it is cool to korero about the hard stuff”.

“The origin of the programme comes from that time after 2012, of youth feeling isolated and anxious about what would come next,” Raui said. “That’s why I believe in it so much. It comes from us.”

When Raui heard the programme had the official green light two weeks ago, he said he was “ecstatic”.

“I’m really excited it’s going ahead. Not necessarily for myself, but because it’s a programme built by young people and it’s awesome to see their voices being empowered,” he said.

The ministries of health and education are working with agencies to identify which schools will be involved in the pilot.

Tu Kotahi is being funded in addition to the $224m mental health package announced in Budget 2017, a spokeswoman from Coleman’s office said.

“This pilot is part of a much larger Government work programme to find new and innovative approaches to mental health. Cabinet is currently considering a package of new initiatives, of which I hope to be able to provide more details on in the coming weeks,” Coleman said.

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 111.

If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:

DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234

There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.

Source: NZ Herald

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