Mike King blames 'misinformed' campaign after his speaking invitation to schools was retracted
Mental health crusader Mike King believes a "misinformed" fearmongering campaign is to blame for several high schools withdrawing an invitation for him to speak to students.
Ahead of his keynote speech to the NZ First party conference on Sunday morning, King was invited to speak at eight schools in the South Canterbury region on self esteem and keeping their "inner critic" in check.
However, Geraldine High School and Opihi College, in Temuka, then retracted the invitations. They told King he was no longer welcome after meeting with South Canterbury District Health Board (SCDHB) suicide prevention co-ordinator Professor Annette Beautrais.
King said Beautrais advocated a "silent" approach to tackling suicide. According to King, Beautrais was in one of the last pockets of academia who still believed in trying to bring down the stubbornly high suicide rates by burying their heads in the sand.
"At the moment in this country, you've got a bunch of old people, academics and clinicians busy behind closed doors discussing what they believe are the solutions for our youth and they're excluding young people," King said.
"My approach is, wouldn't it be better to ask them what the problems are and what the solutions are?"
He was disappointed at Beautrais' intervention, which he claims was not scientifically-informed.
"She hasn't been to any of my talks," he said. "I just feel sorry for her that she's come from this misinformed place and she is not allowing the young people in these schools to have the opportunity to talk about this subject.
"She hasn't spoken to any schools, so she is speculating about what it is I do. Annette has long supported silence around suicide. She has outdated ideas on what suicide prevention should be and she still believes there should be a cloak of silence around this topic."
Beautrais, who has worked in suicide research and prevention for many years, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
SCDHB chief executive Nigel Trainor confirmed they had raised concerns about King's visit with the schools.
"Since then we have had discussions with Mike King which have highlighted that our goals are aligned," Trainor said.
"We are working with Mike King and will support his visits."
Roncalli College principal Chris Comeau said he had brushed off the concerns raised by the district health board.
"While I can appreciate their concerns, I think it would be far more effective for all of us to get in behind the visit and take advantage of Mike's high profile to address the issue surrounding mental health.
"After weighing up all the information and researching the Lighthouse Trust, I feel quite comfortable with my decision to host Mike King," Comeau said.
Last year in a TV interview, Beautrais claimed suicide should never be mentioned in headlines or on the front page of newspapers, wrongly attributing this to Ministry of Health Suicide Prevention Strategy reporting guidelines.
In fact, the guidelines urge media organisations to report suicide in a straightforward manner by providing concise and factual information, and to promote help and information services.
In May, King quit his role on New Zealand's suicide-prevention panel, describing it as 'a masterclass in butt covering'.
He labelled the Government's suicide prevention draft plan was "deeply flawed" and self-serving.
King, who is speaking at the New Zealand First Party conference in Auckland on Sunday, has also clashed with Health Minister Jonathan Coleman over his approach to mental health services.
NZ First leader and Northland MP Winston Peters said he wanted to hear from King as he was sick of the debate around suicide being "numbed and dumbed down".
"My party is prepared to listen to practical people who have got a serious grasp of what they're talking about and can give best advice to us. Mental health is a huge problem in this country and we're not dealing with it."
Rural General Practice Network chairperson Sharon Hansen, of Temuka, said when talking to youths, especially in groups, it was important to know the "type" of group you were talking to.
Some personalities may be vulnerable and would not benefit from direct conversations about mental health, she said.
She believed schools had good services and were able to cope with any issues students may have.
Hansen said she was "unsure" about addressing youths in a big group and thought it would be best if the talks on mental health included parents so the information was shared "as a family".
"The highest rate of suicides is in rural areas and we need people to be asking these questions and talking about it.
"We cannot have these statistics and it is time rural health is given more focus," Hansen said.
She believed King was a "hero" and said the way mental health and youths were dealt with should be investigated.
WHERE TO GET HELP
Lifeline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 354
Depression Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 111 757
Healthline (open 24/7) - 0800 611 116
Samaritans (open 24/7) - 0800 726 666
Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
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- Sunday Star Times