New Zealand – we have a problem

Seat 32G on a midnight Qantas flight SYD-AKL. I remember these details distinctly after calling Qantas’ Lost & Found for about four days with no success.

I’d cried like an absolute sop through Wizard of Lies and taken my glasses off – and my Invisalign – and placed them in their case in the pocket of the seat in front of me. The Invisalign plate, in particular, would have been a lovely find. So lovely, it and the glasses were never returned.

The Wizard of Lies is a good movie based on the true story of convicted Ponzi scheme fraudster Bernie Madoff. The scene that tore my heart strings was the suicide of his son, Mark Madoff.  Mark’s father-in-law was depicted shielding Mark’s toddler son’s eyes from his hanging body with a piece of cloth. Despite the wealth and success that family once had, suicide knows no societal boundaries.

Suicide prevention, at this exact time, was front-of-mind: I had been shortlisted for the Fujitsu-JAIMS Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge Scholarship, with entries centring on some sort of capstone project – mine of which was attempting to somehow address our abysmal suicide rate.

606 suicides in NZ in 2017 – one of the highest rates in the world

606 pairs of shoes. 606 faces. 606 people with parents, family, friends and colleagues with holes in their hearts and questions and anger and pain and anguish about what they could have done to stop it.

We have a problem, New Zealand. We know that. In her first 100 days in office, our prime minister Jacinda Ardern has launched an inquiry, the Ministry of Health last year issued an action plan, the discourse about suicide is ramping up and some of the Kiwis we know and love are taking messaging into their own hands.

But what do we do? As Jess McAllen called it – that we need to make sure measures don’t  “fall into the same hollow clichés that plague the way we talk about the issue”.

These are peoples’ lives we are talking about, and no amount of discussion and media coverage and inquiries and action plans and government-issued or papers from academia are really going to change that moment, that horrible, horrible moment, when someone decides to – and goes through with – taking their own life.

And to a certain extent, it’s not entirely a government problem. It’s a people problem.

What do I know? Not a lot. But I have lived with suicide my entire life.  I have had friends take their own life. I still don’t know what’s going on at the front line. So what can I do? Not much on my own. What can we do collectively? Hopefully something, because something needs to change.

Greetings from Tokyo

I write this from a single bed in a compact apartment in the Bunkyo-ku Koraku area of Tokyo, sipping on lukewarm Nescafe Gold with my lower back propped up by a travel pillow. I am here mainly because of this goal – to somehow, some way, make a dent on the blight on our nation.

It’s not just our nation either: Japan also has one of the highest suicide rates in the developed world. In fact, I have read, it was once an honour for samurai to comment suicide instead of lose face.

I’m thankful to have been awarded Global Leaders scholarship, sponsored by Fujitsu Global, with a course framework reminiscent of an MBA but that has the overarching goal of creating business leaders who aspire to also do good in the community. My capstone project for the scholarship is centred on ways we can reduce suicide and increase mental wellness in New Zealand.

Long gone are the times when a business was driven solely by the bottom line and returning profits for shareholders. All business leaders of today – and tomorrow – must be able to see much further than profit and loss. Businesses of all sizes have an obligation to give back to the community in which their clients and staff live and work. CSR can no longer be a PR stunt – morally and environmentally-aware consumers are voting with their wallets, and leaders need to be aware of this and equipped with skills to look past just EBITDA and ROI.

Social and ethical enterprise

A way we can do this is through social enterprises. We have several social enterprises doing well here – an example is Eat My Lunch, a company that, for every lunch sold, delivers a free lunch to a child in need. Just this month, New Zealand’s first social impact investment fund was launched.

Through the course of this scholarship, our capstone project, with assistance from advisors and lecturers, will start to take shape. At this point, I know what I want to achieve, but I also know that it’s a pretty meaty goal – and one that will need to be taken initially with bite-sized chunks – i.e. addressing mental wellness at a community or organisational level before a national one. There are so many of us wanting to help – let’s band together now to help make change. Ideas and people looking to join forces are welcome to email me – hannah@hannahnortonwrites.com.

Thank you!

HN

4 thoughts on “New Zealand – we have a problem”

  1. Hi Hannah

    I’m currebtly trying to get a Mental health First Aid business started. Counties Manukau DHB run the class and imand a certified trainer, problem is it’s still really expensive and most people who need this stuff can’t afford it. I’ve got an Instagram page @blackdogmentalhealth. Mental Helath first aid is something that’s so important to me, due to lived experience and important to society. Especially in this day and age.

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