579 shoes begin journey to Parliament

This article deals with suicide.

Last year, 579 Kiwis were lost to suicide.

Over the next two weeks, 579 pairs of shoes will travel around Aotearoa and arrive on Parliament grounds on September 10 - International Suicide Prevention Day.

The shoes were blessed in Bluff and Cape Reinga on Saturday and will be donated to charity after the tour.

There are eight pairs of children's shoes in the collection, for eight children aged 10 to 14 whose lives were lost to suicide in 2016.

There are also shoes for 51 teenagers, 419 adults and 101 older adults, aged over 60.

Seventy percent are men's shoes, with 17 pairs of gumboots for farmers and farm workers.

  • If you wish to talk to someone about mental illness or domestic violence, you can call Lifeline on 0800 543 354, the Depression Helpline on 0800 111 757 or the National Telehealth Service on 1737.

In each town a bereaved local will hold a pair of their loved one's shoes and share a personal story about loss and their hope for a change in government policy.

The YesWeCare.nz health funding coalition and the Public Service Association, New Zealand's mental health union, is supporting the events.

YesWeCare.nz coordinator Simon Oosterman says bereaved families want politicians to have the courage to put politics aside and "do what's right".

"Hearing the number 579 is shocking; seeing 579 empty shoes is something else.

"Too many of our loved ones are reaching out for help and not getting support because our mental health services are in crisis.”

Families are calling for a national suicide reduction target, an urgent independent inquiry into New Zealand's mental health crisis and the restoration of $2.3 billion funding needed to cover the country's ageing and growing population.

Mr Oosterman criticised the Government for refusing to hold an independent inquiry despite 77 percent of New Zealanders wanting one.

Two bereaved New Zealanders are supporting families in each island. Jane Stevens, from Waikato, is supporting the North Island events.

Ms Steven's 21-year-old son, Nicky, went missing from a mental health inpatient unit on March 9, 2015. His body was found on March 12.

"Unless we actually all talk together to try and find some solutions, nothing is going to change," Ms Stevens says.

"One of our biggest frustrations is that the Government has not been listening. The balance is starting to tip now, but six weeks before the election they've started to acknowledge there is a problem - that doesn't feel very sincere to me."

She says she was "gobsmacked" when Health Minister Jonathan Coleman rejected setting a suicide reduction target.

"We know that not talking about this doesn't work. It hasn't worked."

Diane Hall, from Nelson, is supporting the South Island events. Ms Hall lost her husband, Jake, 45, on October 22, 2014.

She says her husband, "a typical bloke" who worked up until his death, was also let down by an underfunded mental health system.

Ms Stevens is carrying a pair of her son's shoes with her across the country, and Ms Hall is carrying her husband's work boots.

The campaign will announce which parties support the families' political demands on Tuesday August 29 at the Hamilton shoe event.

Bereaved families from across the country will meet with politicians face to face on September 11 in an intimate meeting open to the media to talk about loss and their hope for change.

September 11 is the first day of advanced voting.