On Thursday the House discussed suicide in New Zealand. There were moving contributions, some of which I want to highlight here. Few people in NZ haven’t lost a friend or family member to suicide. More Kiwis kill themselves than die on the roads.
As I was purviewing the statistics—and some of them are absolutely heartbreaking—I was putting faces to those statistics. In fact, as a brand new member of this House in my first year, I lost a young niece, just starting out in her life, to whakamomori—a young, beautiful wahine Māori; a young, beautiful woman, 18 years old, passionate about her culture, a love for our reo, a strong whānau unit. I remember at that tangihanga, we all held each other and we cursed ourselves for not doing enough. We cursed ourselves for not seeing the signs.
When I was 19 or 20 I found out that one of my childhood friends had killed herself. I used to play with dolls at her house on a regular basis. We hadn’t seen much of each other once we were at secondary school so I was unaware of the problems that had developed for her. When I heard she had killed herself, I felt guilty even though I had not seen her for years. I wondered if I had stayed in touch, I could have helped.
Losing a family member but be expoentially worse.
Many here in this Chamber may think they understand farmers; respectfully, many don’t. Rural families invest, in many cases, their entire lives. For many families, rural families and country life is all they know. Mental illness is an absolute scourge in rural communities. Farmers bear huge burdens, massive hours, long periods of isolation. We contend with crop failures to floods routinely and more increasingly, and poor public policy that’s becoming increasingly impractical and unworkable. Rural mental health is often attached to well-intentioned politicians, and this hall is full of them, but they lack the consequences of their policies and their ideas in real time. This often exacerbates our lack of self-worth.
In 32 years, I have seen it all. I have seen drug use run amok and depression. I have also buried four of my farming colleagues. Rural folk often and in hushed tones refer to it as the black dog or the hitchhiker or the bloody thief in the night. Farmers and rural folk are often pragmatists and we tend to treat mental illness like broken bones or the flu. But in truth, it’s very different. Ultimately, we know we can’t put time frames on these things. Sadly, the help we often want or need just simply isn’t coming. There are good people, these were us, they were our people, and they are Kiwis.
Four colleagues lost. Awful.
Everyone has a story. Every family has a story. And I think, when you first experience it, it doesn’t ever happen in one’s own family—and excuse me for saying “your”, Mr Speaker, but this is just one of those conversations—it never happens in your family until it does. In 1995, my sister lost her husband, and we were left with two young nephews, one of whom is about to become a dad. Until it happens in your own family, it’s something that’s over there and it’s often not talked about. When I was growing up, it was never talked about. Young people died and no one ever knew why they died. But I think every family in this day and age has been touched in some way, if not by suicide, at least by mental health.
It’s also very dear to my heart. I lost two nephews to suicide this year—two young Māori men in their early 30s. During my maiden speech, the twin of my deceased nephew was here, and he found his brother. And regrettably, the mental health service wasn’t there when he needed them. We have all lost loved ones, and what we strive for to come out of this report is that it makes a difference and that it saves lives.
The thought of a twin finding his brother makes me well up with sadness.
Good to see MPs put aside party politics to discuss this awful issue. Here’s hoping progress can be made.