The lives of young New Zealanders who face daily challenges can be turned around if adequately trained mentors step in early and teach how to build self-belief, confidence and positive relationships.
That is the message being given by New Zealand mountaineer and explorer Sir Graeme Dingle, in response to damning statistics released this week which showed there were 685 suicides in the year to June 30. The suicide rate now stands at 13.93 per 100,000 people, compared to 13.67 in 2017/18, a 1.9% increase.
The latest UNICEF report shows NZ is currently ranked 34 out of 41 countries for the wellbeing of children and has the worst rate of youth suicide.
The mental health and self-esteem of young New Zealanders has been a key concern for Sir Graeme since he and his wife Jo-anne Wilkinson founded the Graeme Dingle Foundation, 24 years ago.
The Foundation’s quest is to help young New Zealanders achieve their potential and to that effect it runs four youth development programmes embracing children as young as five through to young people of 17 or 18, including a special programme to help teenage male offenders get back on track.
Responding to the grim suicide statistics, Sir Graeme says a plan can be put in place to dramatically reduce suicides by 2050 – as long as the country cares enough to back that plan.
“We must address the tragedy of these ongoing negative statistics and outcomes for our children and young people. Suicide is a silent epidemic and it doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor.
“We’ve done good work, but there’s so much more work to be done and it will take the ‘village’ to care enough to reduce the youth suicide rate dramatically and to make New Zealand the best place in the world for young people.”
Sir Graeme says our high suicide rate is indicative of a much wider range of issues.
“The metaphor of an iceberg is a good way to describe this – the 10% above the water being suicide and the 90% below water all the stuff that leads to that sense of hopelessness.”
The key to turning this around, he says, is to get in early with mentoring help to build emotional resilience in all our children and young people.
“We know that not everyone gets the same start in life and many grow up in difficult environments or have many challenges thrown in their path. There are thousands and thousands of New Zealand kids who are bullied, depressed, lack self-confidence or who are vulnerable for a whole range of different reasons.
“Through building self-belief, confidence, respect, positive relationships, and providing the skills and support to make better decisions, we have seen how lives can be improved, now and into the future.
“I have personally seen thousands of desperate kids turn their lives around with this process. However, it is absolutely crucial that this support starts as early as possible, as it’s much easier to help a child, then it is to fix an adult.”
Sir Graeme says the critical time in a young person’s life is their transition into high school, as this usually coincides with huge periods of change.
“Peer mentoring programmes can play a significant role in giving them opportunities to make them feel connected within their community, with a strong sense of self-worth. Being able to teach our kids to develop more positive and respectful relationships vastly improves their ability to work with others and resolve conflict independently.
“If we can transition our young people safely into high school, creating opportunities for relationship building and a sense of connectedness, then the years after that are far less traumatic for them.”
Support for young people doesn’t always have to come from adults, it can come from their peers too. Peer mentoring programmes can play a significant role in improving a young person’s ability to work with others, resolve conflict independently and give them hope for the future.
‘Support needs to be there day after day, week after week and year after year – there is no quick fix, this is not a project – but rather a transformational journey. My plan says that we can do this by 2050 and I will do everything in my power to ensure that this happens.
“New Zealand – will you come on this journey with me?”
For further information please contact:
Georgie Davies, Marketing and Communications Manager, GRAEME DINGLE FOUNDATION, Mobile +64 21 229 0722