Mark Richardson a symbol of New Zealand's changing attitude to mental health - Mike King

Mike King says one person symbolises how much New Zealand's attitude to mental health is changing - and that person is The AM Show host Mark Richardson.

In the wake of broadcaster Greg Boyed's death, Mr King says the conversation around depression needs to shift from hunting for 'signs' to empowering people in crisis to speak out.

"By singling out individual symptoms, we're missing the bigger picture," he told Newshub.

"It makes us feel good, but it won't encourage people to open up. Instead of focusing on looking for people in crisis, why don't we work on ourselves, look in the mirror and ask, 'What is it about me that's preventing people from reaching out?'"

But the former comedian is positive about the progress New Zealand is making.

"Things are changing dramatically. One of the biggest things for me in the last two or three months has been Mark Richardson's attitude changing. He warms my heart."

The Block NZ host is the "archetype of the staunch Kiwi bloke", Mr King says.

"But now he's saying he wants friends to open up to him, and that to me represents the biggest change ever. That's what success looks like," he said.

"This is the guy who asked the Prime Minister about getting pregnant, and he's now encouraging people to open up and talk. You can't get bigger change than that. It's a game-changer."

Mark Richardson, host of The Block NZ and The AM Show, has been called a symbol of the country's shifting attitude to mental health.
Mark Richardson, host of The Block NZ and The AM Show, has been called a symbol of the country's shifting attitude to mental health. Photo credit: Newshub.

When asked what success around improving mental health would look like to him, Mr King says it would be being able to give an honest reply when asked how he is, rather than instinctively responding with "I'm fine".

"Success to me would be a country no longer wearing a mask," he explains. "A country with people lifting each other up and making each other realise they have value."

He says he's "150 percent" certain that New Zealand can achieve that goal.

Mr King says hundreds of people have opened up to him about their own struggles.

"Not because I'm better than anyone else, but because they know I won't shame them."

He says 80 percent of people who have recurring thoughts of suicide never ask for help, and believes that statistic should signal to New Zealand that we need to change our attitude to mental health - on an individual level as well as a legislative one.

"We're all so busy talking about 'what is the Government going to do', 'what are the DHBs going to do'. What are you doing to facilitate that conversation?"

During his appearance on The AM Show on Thursday morning, Mr King said it was a "myth" that there are visible signs someone has depression.

His comments have drawn criticism from some in the health industry, but Mr King says his point was that the current "crisis-driven" approach to mental illness isn't working.

"Of course there are signs of depression, but my message to people is that their flippant judgmental attitudes mean others don't feel comfortable talking about it."

He says the death of Boyed, a high-profile and well-respected presenter who seemed to 'have it all', needs to be the catalyst for Kiwis to change how we talk about depression.

"I don't want Greg's death to be in vain. I'm sure the big guy's looking down and saying, 'This needed to happen'."

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