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Shoes for suicide awareness

By Emily Norman

[email protected]

Wairarapa will be confronted with the “stark reality” of the number of New Zealanders who take their own lives each year.

On Saturday, national suicide statistics will be displayed in Masterton’s Town Square, with a very personal touch.

Almost 600 pairs of empty shoes will line the space, complete with stories written by New Zealanders who have lost a family member or friend to suicide.

Masterton mother Toni Ryan lost her 16-year-old son Sam to suicide in 2011 which inspired her to coordinate the Wairarapa event for World Suicide Prevention Day 2016.

Since February she has been collecting shoes and sourcing personal stories of people affected by suicide, including Wairarapa families.

“I wanted to create a display that showed more than just the statistics,” she said.

“I wanted people to see that we’re not losing numbers, what we’re actually losing is about 560 absolutely remarkable people every year in New Zealand, and this world really isn’t a better place without them in it.

“They were all loved, they are all missed, and the hole they leave in the lives of those left behind is forever.”

Mrs Ryan is part of a unique support network of Wairarapa people who have been affected by suicide, which includes Masterton grandmother Trish Wilkinson, and Masterton mother Mandy Cairns.

Ms Cairns’ 15-year-old daughter Ceridwen, and Ms Wilkinson’s 14-year-old granddaughter Jess took their own lives in the latter part of 2011, the same year as Sam.

“So we’re all five years,” Ms Wilkinson said.

“We’re in this group that we’d rather not be in.

“And we’d rather not have all the other people who have joined us either that have been affected by suicide.

“It doesn’t matter how many years have gone past, in 20 years it will still feel the same.

“All the empty pairs of shoes is the reality, it’s the actual stark reality that those people aren’t in those shoes anymore.”

Mrs Ryan said World Suicide Prevention Day this year was themed around communication.

“The main point I want to get across is that if I knew then what I know now, I unequivocally wholeheartedly believe that Sam would still be alive,” she said.

“I would like for parents to know now what I wish I had known then, because then they won’t be where we are now.”

She said she was thankful for those in the community who had donated shoes this year for the event which have been stored in Sam’s bedroom.

“I could not have done this without my community getting behind me.

“They’re absolutely phenomenally awesome.”

The women will be at the Town Square from 9am until 5pm – “us, our shoes, and our stories”.


Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (4pm to 6pm weekdays)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)


  1. i am amazed at this awareness attempt by this brave mother i too lost my son ben in 2014 and understand her passion too fight for the cause i had her babys photo on a memorial quilt here while she had my babys photo and story we want to see in future years the yellow ribbon being promoted all throughout nz for our angels so their storys can save lifes they are the heros for us my community too helped make hundreds of ribbons too distribute we wore them proudly for awareness our story isnt over yet far from it

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Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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