Seeking help OK: Sir John

Sir John Kirwan talks about suicide and depression in front of about 400 people from Central...
Sir John Kirwan talks about suicide and depression in front of about 400 people from Central Otago at the Alexandra Bowling Club rooms yesterday. Photo by Leith Huffadine.
More than 400 people, including farmers in boots, mechanics in overalls, mothers with children, businesspeople, grandparents, mothers and fathers, turned up to hear Sir John Kirwan discuss suicide and depression in Alexandra yesterday.

His introductory speaker, Westpac Otago-Southland regional manager Murray Heath, said 20 years ago the topic of suicide was not a topic of public conversation.

Speaking before his presentation, All Black great and current Blues coach Sir John said his message was that depression was an illness, not a weakness.

''That's an interesting thing, because people down here are quite stoic.''

Getting the message out it was ''OK'' to ask for help, especially in rural communities, was important, he said.

As a part of that, he had launched an initiative on his website for farmers.

Recently having visited a farm, he said where he saw a beautiful view, a farmer would see debt, droughts and labour.

''What would I know [about the challenges farmers face], I'm a city boy, so I've got some farmers to help [with the website].''

During his brief trip to Alexandra yesterday, funded by Westpac, Sir John also visited Dunstan High School, talking to pupils at a special assembly.

Otago Suicide Prevention Trust trustee Ian Kerrisk said having Sir John come to Alexandra was ''huge'' for the community.

''He is known by people from my age group - in their 50s - and my daughter's [teenage] age group.

''His message is going out to different generations, but the generations he must reach are the teens and middle-aged men. For JK to come and talk to those groups and get his message across is fantastic.''

Sir John said speaking to young people was important, because if depression could be ''nipped in the bud'' when it first began to appear, between the ages of 15 and 18, it would help prevent the illness later in life.

His work would be complete when the suicide rate reached zero, Sir John said.

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