Making zero the hero

Yesterday afternoon Barbara Kuriger took part in a special Parliamentary debate to acknowledge the Zero Suicide Aotearoa report released on World Suicide Prevention Day last year.

The report was commissioned by a cross-party committee to address New Zealand’s high suicide rate and achieve, as its name suggests, the long-term aspiration of zero suicides.

Members include National MP Matt Doocey, ACT Leader David Seymour, Labour MP Louisa Wall and Green MP Chloe Swarbrick.


It estimated 150,000 Kiwis thought about taking their own life and of those, 50,000 made a suicide plan, 20,000 attempted it and more than 500 died. 


“There is no room for politics in mental health and every family has a story,” she said.


“In 1995 my sister lost her husband, and we were left with two young nephews, one of whom is about to become a dad.


“Until it happens in your family, it’s something that’s over there and it’s often not talked about. But I think every family in this day and age has been touched in some way — if not by suicide, at least by mental health.”


Mrs Kuriger said she was heartened by the cross party’s focus on rural mental health.

“Because my brother-in-law Steve was a farmer, and it can be lonely.”


She paid special tribute to the rural community groups who are “doing some fantastic work”.

“I want to make mention of the Rural Support Trust — Neil Bateup and the team — who are out in our rural communities.


“Sometimes I have to ask the support trust people if they are okay because they are dealing with some pretty heavy issues.


“I really thank those people for the work they’ve done. We all need to get behind them, because in every community there are people who are helping the mental health situation.


“Most of us don’t know what to do often and it’s the Rural Support Trust and others who get behind those of us who are suffering.”


She went on to ask her fellow politicians to take care with the words they use.

“I would ask every politician in this House to consider the language we use every day when we talk about farmers as I often find myself saying ‘Farmers are people too’.


“As we go through our environmental issues and all of the other issues that we're trying to deal with, people are working so hard, and the language that is used towards farmers sometimes is so tough they feel like everything's coming at them, and, no matter what they do, it's never enough.


“So I would ask us all not just to watch our language around zero suicide, but to please watch the language that we use when we're talking not only about farmers but every group in the community.”


Mrs Kuriger also discussed the Supporting Farmers initiative launched recently by Fonterra recently which she, husband Louis and her son Tony are lending their support to.


The programme, which has a focus on sharemilkers, aims to help them with issues including power imbalances, bullying “and those types of things”.


“We got here through an experience where the help Tony was asking for was not forthcoming,” she said.


“We’re really proud that Tony is still with us and that he’s going to be using his experience to help other young men and sharemilkers as they step forward in their farming careers.”


In a debate filled with tears and raw emotion, Mrs Kuriger says she believes the report’s launch in Parliament was a momentous occasion.


“We’re all humans at the end of the day, so I want us to get behind this cross-party group and make the most of the initiative that’s been launched by this team.”