With autumn signalling the start of fewer daylight hours and longer nights, the change in seasons can for some people have an impact on their mental health.
It's well known that depression affects many New Zealanders; in the 2011/2012 New Zealand Health Survey more than half a million Kiwis had been diagnosed with depression at some time in their lives. [Source]
However, one person determined to remove the stigma of talking about suicide – and who was recently recognised for his efforts in the community on suicide awareness and suicide prevention – is Joseph Fa'afiu.
A pastor and respected leader, Joseph felt that talking about suicide wasn't doing enough to tackle New Zealand's high suicide statistics and wanted to take action. He founded HopeWalk as a result; a community action group that gives individuals, families and communities a place to connect with others who have lost loved ones to suicide.
While he originally had the idea in 2015, the first HopeWalk event was held in South Auckland early last year. That group walk attracted more than 2,500 people; and HopeWalk was officially launched, giving communities, families and individuals a voice.
Jospeh says the HopeWalk movement is about encouraging support to break down the traditional taboos of suicide. It also works to highlight existing organisations and agencies that provide suicide prevention and intervention support.
"We need to break the stigma and silence around suicide, and remember that we are talking about people, not numbers on a piece of paper."
The latest suicide figures released by the coroner's office show that 579 New Zealanders took their own lives in the 2015/16 year; the highest number of suicide deaths since the provisional statistics were first recorded. The figures also show men aged 25–29 and women aged 40–44 are the most at-risk. [Source]
"HopeWalk is a walk of unity, love and hope, to remember those taken by suicide and supporting those who are currently struggling," he adds.
Each HopeWalk is run regionally by an area champion who drives suicide awareness in their local area. And like Joseph, everyone involved with the organisation has been personally affected by suicide in some way.
Without a doubt Joseph’s passion and community spirit has not only shaped HopeWalk, but continues to benefit people around him on a daily basis. His enormous community contributions were recognised last year when he was awarded a special KiwiBank Local Hero Award, as well as the 2016 Pacific Community Leadership Award.
"HopeWalk came from my belief that there was a true need in my community – they needed and wanted to see some action. What we've created through HopeWalk is a forum for community engagement that really can make a difference."
When Joseph started the movement, he could never have imagined that in less than eighteen months HopeWalk would grow throughout New Zealand, across the Tasman and even to Canada.
The team is now focused on a big goal for New Zealand, but one Joseph believes is achievable.
"Our goal is zero suicides, but it will be a journey. A big part of that journey is to change traditional thinking around suicide and mental illness. It's time to talk so we can make a change."