The death of prominent New Zealand broadcaster Greg Boyed has again highlighted one of our country's most pervasive - and heartbreaking - problems. Experts are advising us all to "check in" on our vulnerable loved ones, but what exactly does that involve?
*Trigger warning - this post talks about mental illness and suicide*
This week, we were faced with some incredibly sad and confronting news. The death of Greg Boyed - Kiwi husband, father of two, and revered media personality - was the latest shocking insight into New Zealand's mental health problem.
His untimely death as a physically fit 48-year-old has jolted those who knew him, both personally and as a regular face on their TV screens. It has been widely reported that Boyed suffered from depression and died while on holiday with his wife and young son in Switzerland.
The commentary that’s arisen around his death addressed mental health, its presence in the workplace, and the complexities surrounding suicide.
Laws prevent NZ media from reporting a death as suicide, unless a coroner expressly grants an exception during his own investigation - which can take place years after the fact.
Instead, these deaths may be reported as “not suspicious” or “sudden” and have a list of suicide and mental health treatment helpline numbers, leaving readers to join the dots - and a fair number of questions unanswered.
Case in point: If you type Greg Boyed into Google, the first suggestion is “cause of death”.
The reasoning behind these rules is that reporting suicide and its methods can encourage others contemplating suicide to act, and has in the past been linked to such behaviour - especially with young people.
His death has reignited the taboo subject, with which statistics show NZ has a pervasive problem. In the year to June, provisional statistics show 668 Kiwis died by suicide - up from 606 in the previous 12 months.
These statistics were released just midday Friday, presumably due to the sheer number of media requests for the information after Boyed’s death.
And don’t forget, we also have the highest youth suicide in the OECD, and the rates for men is about three times that of women.
So, it’s clear. The writing’s on the wall: We’ve got a problem.
There is currently a mental health inquiry underway, and the topic is being talked about more often: Yet the issue prevails, and worsens.
The sheer volume of touching tributes to Boyed again highlights - in the most heartbreaking of ways - how mental illness lurks in the most hidden of shadows.
The number of Boyed’s colleagues alone saying how funny, witty, kind, compassionate, intelligent, talented and loving he was is not only testament to Boyed, but to the complexities, stigma, and unknowns of mental illness.
We found this piece by his friend Rachel Grunwell especially touching, as she talked not only about Boyed's frienship - but how they often discussed his mental health and had plans in place to deal with his struggles.
This obituary by another of Boyed's close friends, Phil Vine, was incredibly poignant:
"You were the best mate I could have asked for. Admire you in every way. All but one. Your blindness about how much people cared for you. You just couldn't see what we saw, who we saw. Maybe that was where your humour came from, that dark place inside you. The mirror that didn't work."
Speaking to Natalie Akoorie of the NZ Herald, Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson warned that Boyed's death would impact others who suffer depression.
"Greg's death really puts a very human face on what is a big issue that our whole community is addressing," he said.
"I look at Greg and he's a face that I knew, and just talking about it now I get tight in the chest and feel a bit upset because it also makes me remember the times when I've been in those really difficult places.
"Anybody who is a public figure or a celebrity who is suspected to take their own life, it tends to get a lot of specific media attention so that in itself raises a lot of issues for people."
Robinson also repeated the rhetoric of “checking in on loved ones”. We noticed that following the news of Boyed’s death, Kiwis were being asked to “check in” and to keep having meaningful conversations about mental health.
Robinson said that included paying close attention to vulnerable friends and family by being there or keeping in contact, and listening without judging or trying to provide a solution.
We liked this anonymous first person account on Stuff about the impact brushing aside calls for help can have on a struggling person. The author described how people's offhand remarks added to her lifelong struggle.
"If it is this hard for me, with all my privilege, how are people without those props supposed to get help? To even ask for help?
"We wring our hands about suicide statistics but do we really care about the individuals those statistics represent? The people who got so damn tired of pretending because no one wanted to see the messy, broken reality of their hearts.
"The system isn't going to save people. I know that now. We need to save each other."
So great, we have compiled them together below, as well as a list of numbers you can keep handy if you need them.
How to "check in"
Inform yourself: Find out more about mental illness by reading up on it. Understand the fundamentals of what your loved ones are dealing with.
Be there to listen - and take it seriously when they speak: If your friend feels like talking, ask them open ended questions like, “What can I do to help?” and, “Why do you think that?” Don't say things like, "Harden up," or "Just deal with it".
If they are upset, just listen: Save questions like those above for another time.
Don't offer advice: Just show you're listening and you care, and remember: Listening isn't the same as agreeing - you can understand another person’s point of view without agreeing with it.
Offer reassurance: Say things like "Thank you for telling me this", "There is a way through this", "I am here for you".
Give them resources: Let them know about support services or offer to help them find resources. Offer to drop them off or pick them up from any appointments.
Don't judge them or imply weakness, assume the problem will just go away, or make them feel as though their issue is a burden for you.
Look after yourself, too: Set boundaries around what you are able, and not, to do - you can't be there for someone 24/7. Make sure you are getting your own support, monitor your mood, and keep making time for things you enjoy.
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, free text 234, or email firstname.lastname@example.org or online chat
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7) for young people up to 18 years of age
What’s Up: 0800 942 8787 (for 5–18 year olds). Phone counselling is available Monday to Friday, midday–11pm and weekends, 3pm–11pm. Online chat is available 7pm–10pm daily
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Thelowdown.co.nz – or email email@example.com or free text 5626
Anxiety New Zealand - 0800 ANXIETY (0800 269 4389)
Supporting Families in Mental Illness - 0800 732 825.
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.