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.
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
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.