Mike King tears up as he explains why he's returning New Zealand Order of Merit medal

Mental health advocate Mike King teared up while explaining his decision to return his New Zealand Order of Merit medal on Wednesday.  

King was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to mental health awareness and suicide prevention in 2019. In May, King wrote to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealing he was returning the medal because he feels "things haven't changed and so many are still suffering" from mental health problems. 

Speaking with The AM Show on Wednesday, King said giving up the medal today will be emotional. 

"I've got a feeling it's going to be a little more emotional than I care to admit."

But he said it's the right decision and hopefully will show those who are struggling they have a voice. 

"Everyone says, 'You've got to take care of yourself right. Look after yourself Mike'... [but] if I give up, kids die. That's the bottom line - kids die.

"If I give up and look after myself then I am just like the rest of them who sit in their little ivory towers, work nine to five and then go home and pat themselves on the back. 

"Someone has to care and someone has to be there as a voice for those people who feel they've lost their voice."

King said even though he's returning the honour, he will still do everything in his power to change the system. 

"The reason I am taking this back is because I want people who are struggling to know that I see you, we see you, we feel you and I am going to do everything in my power, everything I've got until my last breath making sure that whatever Government is in power - things are going to change. 

"And if Jacinda [Ardern] and everyone else thinks I am going away, you're sadly, sadly mistaken, I haven't even begun to fight."

King also lashed out at the Ministry of Health and the Government saying they are "out of touch". 

Political reporter Jenna Lynch told The AM Show King's frustration is understandable. 

"If you ask anyone in Government, they will say that everything is tickety boo, that $1.9 billion was supposed to be stretched over five years, that it was always meant to ramp up over time. 

"But Grant Robertson himself admitted a couple of weeks back… he was going to be working with Andrew Little the Health Minister to ensure that money is actually making it out the door [because] they don't seem to be able to tell us how much of it has made it out of the Ministry of Health and into the community."

Lynch said the Ministry of Health is Little's responsibility and he needs to haul them into line and "demand some outcomes".

In 2019, the Government invested $1.9 billion in improving mental health services. King has heavily criticised the rollout of the money saying families are suffering because the Ministry of Health has been "incompetent" at handling it. 

In May, Ministry of Health deputy director-general for mental health and addiction Toni Gutschlag said the Ministry is "committed to making sure mental wellbeing support and services are available to young people".

Gutschlag pointed out several areas where the ministry is improving mental health services, including:

  • Making "good progress" on rolling out a programme of work which will give youth greater access and variety of mental health and addiction information and support

  • Investing in youth-specific mental health and wellbeing services including specific youth services in 13 different areas

  • Providing $1 million to Youthline

  • Making it easier for young people to get help through their GP 

  • Rolling out tailored services for Māori and Pacific peoples

  • Looking at specific services to provide support for Rainbow youth and supporting health workforces to better understand the needs of Rainbow young people.

Ardern also responded in May assuring King and others the Government knows the work to improve mental health in New Zealand isn't complete yet. 

"We have made good steps but know there is much more to do," she says.

"While I totally respect Mike's decision, his honour was about the contribution he's made to improving people's lives - and that stands."  

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