John Kirwan gives rousing talk on mental illness


If we can acknowledge that depression is not a weakness and suicide is not an option, we can change the world.

Those were Sir John Kirwan's rousing words to a large audience gathered for the Westpac-sponsored ambassador's depression and mental health talk in Alexandra yesterday.

Kirwan said attitudes to mental ill-health were changing, but not fast enough.

"Suicide is the end of an illness; it's a tragedy and it leaves devastation in its wake."

Knighted in 2012 for his services to mental health and rugby, the former All Black said his mission was to push for more government-funded campaigns, such as suicide prevention advertisements, to spread the message that death by suicide was unacceptable in the same way car fatalities were by not buckling up.

"My son says to me, ‘put your seatbelt on Dad'. It's just so automatic to them."

Earlier, Kirwan, a self-confessed city boy, said he knew all too well why urban people struggled to understand how farmers could also suffer from mental health issues and depression.

Mental health figures show a significantly higher rate of suicide in rural areas than in the cities.

"I look out on their backyard and I see beauty and space.

"But all they can see is a big mortgage, stock and weather."

With first-hand experience during his own battle with depression, Kirwan coined an often-used phrase: "Suicide's a long-term solution to a short-term problem," a theme he reiterated at the meeting.

"Depression nearly killed me . . . I was gone - I was absolutely gone."

But he started to get better and to reach out for help when he took "fear out of the equation"; fear of facing up to his problems and fear of failure, he said.

Kirwan also said he had forgotten about taking pleasure in "the little things" in life.

He asked the audience when was the last time they'd danced, laughed or hugged someone.

"Depression is like rugby. You've got to have a plan and a way through."

This included getting equipped with "tools of trade" to minimise the impacts of stress, such as doing enjoyable activities, talking about problems, getting counselling, and using online resources.



If you or someone you know needs help, you can contact:

Samaritans 0800 726 666

Depression helpline 0800 111 757

Rural Support Trusts 0800 787 254

In an emergency, do not hesitate to call 111

Alternatively, you can also talk to your local GP or nurse. 

The Southland Times