How did New Zealand reduce the incredibly high suicide rate?

It looks like it was largely down to the efforts of the The New Zealand Ministry of Health National Depression Initiative (NDI).

The NDI began with popular tv adverts featur-ing several high-profilr Kiwis, relating their attempts to cope with depression in their lives. And in 2010, the NDI launched a successful 6 week internet-based self-help programme called The Journal, which features former All Black and depression campaigner John Kirwan as a personal coach.

Both campaigns hit a nerve with New Zealanders, who are known as self-reliant, stoic people. Rugby is a religion in New Zealand. All Black stars are demi-gods. In the land of the battler, it was seen as incredibly brave that John Kirwan stood up and told the world about his life-long struggle with depression.

John Kirwan (former All Black) and Mike King (comedian) are two high profile New Zealanders raising the issues of mental health.

John Kirwan, former rugby union star winger, has become a well-known face on television adverts speaking about his own depression. He speaks about his struggle with depression during his time as an All Black from 1984 to 1994, and of the difficulty going public due to the stigma associated with mental illness.

"When I was first asked to do the national health campaign, I was scared," he said. "I was scared people would think I was a freak."

Since the ads began in 2006, he's had had people come up to him and thank him for saving their lives. "For me, that's been more important than being an All Black."

Entertainer Mike King nearly ended his life in a three-day cocaine binge in a Hong Kong hotel room. King said that event was the culmination of 30 years of addiction which went hand-in-hand with and fed his depression.

Mike regularly appears on New Zealand TV and radio, and has managed to raise the media coverage and discussion of mental health enormously. He runs a Facebook group The Nutters Club, and is the Patron of the Phobic Trust.

Mike continues to be a great entertainer but now also gets the message across that we need to be serious about mental health in order to make the most of our lives.

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