(Warning: This article is about suicide and may be distressing for some readers.)
Mike King remembers just two teachers: his very best and his very worst.
He speaks fondly of Mrs Lough, his Home Economics teacher.
“I would never have wagged one of her classes. Maths on the other hand…”
The well-known comedian and mental health awareness campaigner spoke at the 2017 Careerforce Workforce Development Conference yesterday in Wellington, on the subject of suicide prevention and said adults play an important role.
In making his point that as a society we need to remove the stigma around talking about suicide, he asked the audience to stand up it they had honestly never had a suicidal thought. Just a handful of people rose to their feet, illustrating King’s point that we need to eliminate the taboo around talking about suicide.
“Telling a person not to think about suicide, is like telling a three-year-old boy not to think about lollies,” he said.
This stigma leads to more serious problems when young people have recurring thoughts about suicide, and fail to address them. His revelation that 80 per cent of young people who have recurring suicidal thoughts fail to talk to anyone about it, shows the extent of the problem.
King puts it down to the growing generational gap, in adults failing to understand how they are portraying themselves to young people.
A young person might share five things about their day, four of them positive, but adults – particularly parents – will focus on the negative, says King.
There is a focus on building resilience in our young people, which King describes as “just a PC way of saying ‘harden up’”.
Psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald, who joined King on stage at the Careerforce conference, says our health professionals have a knee-jerk reaction to prescribing medication, rather than talk therapy, which is proven to be the most effective treatment for mild to moderate anxiety and depression.
He says what young people want more than anything else is to be listened to, and to have their opinions validated by an adult.
King says this is where teachers play an incredibly important role in listening to their students and showing that they care about them.
This role doesn’t have to fall by default to school counsellors, nor do teachers require specialist training – after all, they are not only educators but adults who come into contact with young people on a daily basis.
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.