Emotional AM Show panel opens up on family suicide

  • 29/08/2017

It was a moving panel on The AM Show on Tuesday morning, with both guests getting personal with stories of mental health issues and suicide in their immediate families.

Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett and victims advocate Louise Nicholas lost a son and a brother to suicide, respectively - and each spoke about their experiences.

The former teared up as the topic of suicide prevention came up, as his son took his life just a year ago.

"You don't handle it well. I can tell you as a father, I can look back over the last year and know I didn't handle it well. You look for what did I do wrong, what didn't I do right and you have all the recriminations," Mr Barnett said.

"But you see your children, the brothers and sisters, suffering. We've had stuff in our family that's put on a huge amount of pressure - and you hide it.

"There is a stigma about mental health, and how do you handle it? We don't - we take it inside and we try and handle it, and as blokes we try and be tough about it."

The AM Show host Duncan Garner admitted he froze and didn't know what to do with himself as he saw his guest begin to cry.

But Mr Barnett made it clear he was asked whether he'd be willing to participate in conversation on the topic before appearing on the show.

"Duncan, I have to say, you did ask beforehand if I minded discussing this and I thought I'd cope."

Ms Nicholas comforted Mr Barnett following his brave disclosure, and then opened up herself on her brother's suicide and her own mental health battle.

"It absolutely tears families apart. In my own family, there was nobody there - you've just got to keep moving on," she said.

"We're not listening. Our mental health system is absolutely buggered. I look back at my own issues when I was 13, and I tried to take my own life. I was hurting."

Ms Nicholas says a kind word from one perceptive teacher was what changed things for her.

"I was going through bad stuff, and she picked up on it. All she did was ask the question 'Are you okay? Can I help?'"

Mr Barnett said the stigma around the phrase 'mental health' is still very much alive, and is an additional barrier both to getting and providing help.

"I still look at the words 'mental health' and feel that there's a stigma there. If we could remove the stigma from mental health, as parents we'd be prepared to reach out, as sufferers we'd be prepared to reach out," he said.

"I think there's other parts of our lives where we reach out and get the help but for mental health, we don't."

The discussion on The AM Show follows the release of new data, which shows a record 606 suicides have been recorded in the last year.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs immediate help, call Lifeline on 0800 543 354, the Suicide Prevention Helpline on 0508 828 865, Healthline on 0800 611 116 or Youthline at 0800 376 633.