health & science

Time to get your gumboots on

New Zealander of the Year Mike King talked to Farah Hancock about Gumboot Friday, and how gumboots and gold coins can help children access counselling

On Friday Mike King will be wearing gumboots, regardless of the weather.

The Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year hopes the rest of New Zealand will join him and donate gold coins. Gumboot Friday aims to raise $2 million towards helping youth to access counselling.

Last year 137 young New Zealanders took their own lives. Ministry of Health data released last year showed 16,848 young people sought help with their mental health between April 2017 and March 2018. Some are seen by mental health professionals within three weeks, but for others the wait was much longer.

More than 1500 young people waited longer than two months just to get a first appointment with a counsellor.

Comedian turned mental health advocate Mike King spent 2018 touring the country, speaking with groups about mental health. Through the work he is doing with the Key To Life Charitable Trust and being open about his own struggles he’s had frank conversations with children and parents.

He’s seen a gap in services.

“Currently the wait times for funded care can be anywhere between six weeks and a year. If you've got a child with an eating disorder, you will not get to see someone inside a year.”

The money raised on Gumboot Friday will get young people appointments with private counselling professionals to speed access to care.

Wearing gumboots is based on the idea that living with depression is like trying to walk through mud every day. It is a sign to those who do struggle with depression that you are thinking about them.

“Instead of bleating about what the Government's doing and what everyone else is doing, we just said, ‘What are we doing?’ How can we help our Government, how can we help our health system and the best way we can help is to provide funds for private care.”

Gumboot Friday was announced when King was named 2019 New Zealander of the Year. Since then the I AM HOPE social media profile frame promoting Gumboot Day has been added to more than 500,000 profile pictures and Kiwibank has donated $100,000 to the Gumboot Friday account along with a contribution from I AM HOPE and donations from other corporates and individuals.

All funds raised this Friday will go straight into a Kiwibank account. King said administration costs wouldn’t eat into the donations. One staff member, paid for by the Key To Life Charitable Trust out of existing funds, will be in charge of managing payment of invoices.

Money will be released from the account on receipt of an invoice from a counsellor with approved qualifications. From Monday April 8, the bank balance will be displayed weekly on the website so everybody can see how much is left.

King describes the Gumboot Friday system as a no-fuss way to help children access counselling.

“There are no hoops to jump through. Go as many times as you want because there is no limit. When the money runs out, that’s the limit.”

Wearing gumboots is based on the idea that living with depression is like trying to walk through mud every day. It is a sign to those who do struggle with depression that you are thinking about them.

It’s not going to be a sombre day spent in red bands though. The idea of fun is central to the fundraising effort.

Gumboot Friday is about fun, too. Photo: Supplied

“I want kids to know that we're having fun while doing something good for them. It's part of this whole de-stigmatising process that we're going through. The problem's always going to be there, but we have to change the way we look at it.”

King’s previously bleak view of New Zealand’s approach to mental health has changed.

“I think we are turning a corner.”

He’s spent much of the past few years on the road talking with people and in the past 12 months has seen a shift in attitudes.

“There is a real change happening, particularly in blue collar. That sector of society that we say is the staunchest, they've shifted. One of the most common things these people say to me after the show is, ‘Bro, you just told my story up there. I'm going home to talk to my kids.’ And that’s really lifted me.

“Definitely yes, there is change happening. Yes, it is really, really positive and long may it continue.”

“There is a real change happening, particularly in blue collar. That sector of society that we say is the staunchest, they've shifted. One of the most common things these people say to me after the show is, ‘Bro, you just told my story up there. I'm going home to talk to my kids.’"

King talks of people’s “inner critic” which he describes as the negative voice inside your head. His message to parents is that their children want them to be honest and open about emotions instead of trying to control them.

“We need to really normalise it. That everyone has doubts and fears that everyone has an inner critic. Mums and dads need to understand that by not showing that vulnerability, by not sharing their doubts and fears with their kids, all they're doing is growing their child's inner critic.”

When he shared his own struggles with school children, he said their “masks” dropped and they opened up in ways they may not have with their parents.

“Our kids dumb themselves down to talk to us. Nine out of 10 times they will just give you the answer they think you want to hear.

“There is so much hope there. The only thing that’s stopping that progress is my generation. We have to change.”

Gumboot Friday is part of tackling an older generation’s attitudes about mental health.

King hopes to use the profile the New Zealander of the Year title has given him.

“I'm super pleased with the platform that it's given me to really elevate this Gumboot Friday cause. There is no way in the world we would have got the uptake that we've had if I wasn't New Zealander of the Year so this is a very, very precious gift that I've been given.”

Kiwibank CEO Steve Jurkovich and Mike King show their solidarity. Photo: Bill Xu 

King will be spending Friday at schools and at Mt Smart Stadium which he said is going to become Gumboot Stadium for the Vodafone Warriors match against the Gold Coast Titans.

He said he plans to “take it easy” after Friday’s fundraiser.

“I'm going to have a break and go on the road five days a week, do three talks a day in the schools and communities and recharge my batteries.

“I'll be mentally exhausted at the beginning of most days, but as soon as I walk into a school and I walk into that hall - where other people see problems - all I see is potential.”

See here for more information about Gumboot Friday and how to donate. 

Kiwibank is a foundation partner of newsroom.co.nz

Where to get help:

If you require immediate help, please call the Key to Life 24hr helpline 0800 2KORERO (0800 256 7376).

Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)

Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat

What's Up – 0800 942 8787 (for 5–18 year olds). Phone counselling is available Monday to Friday, midday–11pm and weekends, 3pm–11pm. Online chat is available from 5pm–11pm 7 days a week, including all public holidays.

Kidsline – 0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline) for young people up to 18 years of age. Open 24/7.

If you are in crisis, call 111, go to your local ED or phone your local mental health crisis team – numbers can be found here.

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