OUR KIWI BLACK SPOT

It took mil­len­ni­als to force Amer­i­cans to con­front the scourge of gun vi­o­lence. Here in New Zealand, writes Ruby Nyika, we have a fail­ing of our own that our young peo­ple are only just wak­ing up to.

Sunday News - - NEWS -

AT 24, I’m part of that pa­le­odi­et­ing, selfie-tak­ing, greens­moothie-drink­ing gen­er­a­tion.

But I’m also of the gen­er­a­tion of crip­pling stu­dent loans, daily cock­tails of an­tide­pres­sants, a near-im­pos­si­ble hous­ing mar­ket and that ruth­less beast that is so­cial me­dia.

We were the gen­er­a­tion given par­tic­i­pa­tion medals for ev­ery­thing we did and never taught to ac­knowl­edge fail­ure.

And I can’t count the num­ber of peers I hear sheep­ishly ad­mit­ting to ex­pe­ri­ences with anx­i­ety or de­pres­sion, con­fided like an ugly se­cret.

In the US, my gen­er­a­tion has started a move­ment that could change ev­ery­thing.

The March for Our Lives in sup­port of tighter gun con­trol brought some­thing like a mil­lion peo­ple to the streets of Wash­ing­ton DC, around the US and in­ter­na­tion­ally on March 24.

What be­gan as a grass­roots re­ac­tion to the hor­rific shoot­ing of 17 stu­dents at a Florida school could fi­nally make a last­ing change in the US, where thou­sands of peo­ple have lost their lives be­cause of the ac­ces­si­bil­ity of firearms.

But let’s not be too smug, New Zealand.

We don’t just have one blind spot of our own. We have 606. That’s the num­ber of peo­ple who killed them­selves in the year to June 30, 2017. That toll has risen for three years in a row and in­cludes the high­est rate of youth sui­cide in the de­vel­oped world. Yearly, men­tal health prob­lems kill hun­dreds more than road crashes.

The Gov­ern­ment’s men­tal health in­quiry, along­side the sub­se­quent sug­ges­tion that there should be a ‘‘zero tol­er­ance of sui­cides in ser­vices’’, is at least three years too late.

Like gun vic­tims in the US, we are dy­ing – so, where are we, the mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion? Be­cause here in New Zealand, we’re not tak­ing to the streets and that is sad, be­cause the sui­cide rate was high­est among 20-24-year-olds.

Last year, Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern said cli­mate change is her gen­er­a­tion’s ‘‘nu­clear-free

I don’t want to use the word cri­sis lightly. We can’t keep wait­ing for it to get to some­body com­mit­ting sui­cide or be­ing hospitalised. That’s not OK.’ GEMMA MA­JOR

mo­ment’’.

She’s right – cli­mate change is the big one. But it’s global and it’s not re­ally a blind spot any­more, ex­cept to the odd cli­mate change­deny­ing loon.

For years we’ve swept our crum­bling men­tal health sys­tem un­der the car­pet, both in our de­ci­sion-mak­ing and house­hold con­ver­sa­tions.

Ac­tivist Gemma Ma­jor, who co-founded Seed Waikato, a group de­signed to con­nect young adults – is no stranger to the is­sue. She has bat­tled drug ad­dic­tions, among other prob­lems. But be­ing an ad­dict meant she was eli­gi­ble for 16 months of funded ad­dic­tion sup­port.

Ma­jor says that after the dis­counted coun­selling ses­sions – typ­i­cally four to 10 – most young peo­ple are left with no sup­port other than an 0800 num­ber to call in times of cri­sis, be­cause they can’t af­ford to pay $160 a pop.

She says the coun­selling changed her life. ‘‘But not every­body has ac­cess to those ser­vices, which breaks my heart. And it kind of per­pet­u­ates a big­ger prob­lem.’’

A lack of pro­fes­sional help for those with mild or mod­er­ate de­pres­sion or anx­i­ety sug­gests they’re not worth at­ten­tion un­til it reaches des­per­a­tion stage.

‘‘It is chal­leng­ing for peo­ple to get that sup­port with ear­lier signs of men­tal distress,’’ Ma­jor says.

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