National | Jacinda Ardern

Emotional Mike King returns NZOM medal, calls for action on suicides

"We've become a nation where we think nothing can change, it can. It can change."

Those words came from mental health advocate and 2019 New Zealander of the Year Mike King in an emotional kōrero in front of his whānau and supporters, as he walked to Parliament in Wellington today to return his New Zealand Order of Merit medal.

It's a message he hopes is heard loud and clear.

This follows after King sent a letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in May before his third Gumboot Friday event, where he walked 100km in gumboots to raise $100,000 for mental health services. In the letter, King says the honour of having the NZOM medal "does not sit comfortably" with him due to the unchanged mental health system.

During his speech today to his support crowd as he fought back tears, King said, "There are people out there like me, we care, we're hearing and together we can all do something.

"But if we all just sit around, compliant, and say 'nothing is going to change,' then nothing is going to change.

"So, if this gives you permission to share your story with other people, please do that, it's really important that we do that."

When he made it to the steps just outside Parliament, King was comforted and hugged by supporters and talked to people who shared stories with him.

"It looks like a whole lot of people who are hurting, whose loved ones are dying, whose loved ones are struggling to stay alive, who can't get the help they need."

King says his actions today were not a symbol of protest to Ardern specifically.

"Governments come and go, the bureaucrats stay the same. The same clowns who were advising this government were advising the last one."

I AM HOPE data shows 175 young people died by suicide last year and it is estimated another 3500 attempted to take their own lives. It also shows some youths had to wait for up to six months to receive counselling.

But for King, the rhetoric ends here.

"Stop sitting at home thinking that this is the way it is because if you're thinking that, then this is the way it'll always be."

If you are concerned about someone who may need help, contact Lifeline 0800 543 354 or the Suicide Crisis Helpline 0508 TAUTOKO.