About 50 supporters turned out to Sunday’s Hope Walk in Featherston. PHOTO/BECKIE WILSON

Bereaved: ‘One thing we are not lacking is hope’

BECKIE WILSON
beckie.wilson@age.co.nz

It has been seven years since Toni Ryan last saw her son smile.

She lost her son, Sam Ryan, to suicide when he was just 16, and not a day goes by without her wishing she could have him back.

Ryan told her story of pain and acceptance to supporters at the Hope Walk on Sunday, which she organised with suicide prevention co-ordinator Rachel Hope and Mark Shepherd.

Walks were held in both Masterton and Featherston. More than 100 people gathered across the two towns to show their support for suicide awareness – some, like Ryan, had lost loved ones to suicide, others were suicide survivors.

Toni Ryan spoke about her, and her family’s struggles over the seven years since losing her son, Sam, to suicide. PHOTO/BECKIE WILSON

People gathered at both Featherston town “squircle” square and Masterton’s Robinson Park before embarking on the Hope Walk around a section of the towns.

Many people spoke about their experiences and struggles with mental health and suicide.

Ryan’s son had struggled with depression and anxiety for a long time.

“I thought if I just loved him enough he would stay,” she said.

“But I have learnt a lot since then, I learnt it takes more than just love, but it’s a damn good start.”

People would say to her that losing a child to suicide was the hardest thing.

“It’s actually not, what is even harder is living with the consequence of your child dying.

“This is not an easy road. I always say even on the days when I don’t feel like getting up to do what I do, I don’t want anyone ever to live the life our family lives now.”

In the past seven years, Ryan said attitudes towards mental health and suicide had changed for the better, but more could be done.

She encouraged those in the crowd to build relationships and connect with others, something she saw as an act of suicide prevention.

Raine MacKenzie was just 12 when she first attempted suicide.

She spoke at the Masterton event about overcoming her own struggles.

Fighting back her tears, she told the crowd how she lost her best friend, Chelsea Brunton, to suicide last year after admitting herself into a mental health facility.

MacKenzie said she knew there were similar stories in the crowd, but with the suicide statistics in mind, attitudes towards mental health needed to change.

“One thing we are not lacking is hope, we are all here because we think we can make a difference and I believe the best place to start is our youth,” she said.

MacKenzie spent her younger years in Masterton where she said she experienced the lack of connection between youth and the community.

“That left myself, and friends of mine, who didn’t have great support systems in our lives, feeling isolated.

“A lot of us self-harmed and self-medicated just to feel connected.

“In saying that, my proposition for all of you today is to look within yourselves in the spirit of hope, to search for the things we know make us feel connected and share that with our loved ones and our community.”

Ezra Stobbart, 22, a suicide survivor, said there are many sayings out there, particularly for men, such as “man up” and “open up”.

“Seriously I don’t follow any of that – there’s a slogan I go by, it’s ‘be real till you heal’,” he said.

Stobbart told both the Masterton and Featherston crowds how he has been through “almost every system in the country”.

“But I’m here today to say I’m not my diagnosis, I’m like everyone else but I just have a few extra struggles,” he said.

Stobbart encouraged those in the crowds to be a supporter and a friend.

“Hold up this stop sign and say “oi, you are going down a road you don’t want to go down, if you go too far there is no going back,” he said.

Provisional suicide statistics show there were eight suicides recorded in Wairarapa during the year ending June, down from 12 the previous year.

Nationally, 668 people took their own lives, the highest number on record.

Some useful free phone helplines:

These 24/7 free phones are operated by trained counsellors who can help you talk through problems and identify ways of coping.

Need to talk?: Free text to 1737 for counsellor support.

Suicide Helpline: 0508 828 865 [0508 TAUTOKO]

Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Kidsline: 0800 543 754 54 [0800 KIDSLINE] supporting under 18 yrs

Youthline: 0800 376 633, free text 234

Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 [supports 5-18 yr olds, 1pm-11pm]

Women’s Refuge Crisis Line: 0800 733 843

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757

Samaritans: 0800 726 666

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Outline NZ: 0800 688 5463 [0800 OUTLINE] sexuality and gender identity issues