Nehe Milner-Skudder is ready to tackle suicide

By Tema Hemi

Former All Black Nehe Milner-Skudder has had the worst year in his rugby playing career. Having not taken the field in 2019 because of ongoing injury woes, the international winger says he has had to contend with uncertainty and has experienced some very dark times.

After finding his feet again Milner-Skudder is now an ambassador for 'Head First' the NZRU's approach to the fight against suicide. The NZRU also teamed up with the government to launch the first ever Suicide Prevention Office. 

He's used to stepping around players on the field but now he's tackling suicide front on. 

Milner-Skudder says, "I been fortunate enough to play rugby and yeah when we got out onto the field you know we all gotta be brave and courageous but that looks different when you’re off the field and I think conversations are starting to happen.

The Government opened the country’s first Suicide Prevention Office in Wellington today. It was one of the forty recommendations that come from the Governments inquiry into mental health. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern states, "This is about having an absolute focus on all of the complex issue's that contribute to suicide. And acknowledging that actually one death is one too many."

Milner-Skudder continues, "There’s been that stigma around what it means to be strong and brave and a lot of that was not talking about emotions and having to harden up and things like that."

This initiative is a part of the coalition Governments Wellbeing budget, a $1.9 billion dollar investment into mental health and addiction, the largest investment into the sector New Zealand has ever seen.

PM Ardern continues, "A big part of that is about making sure that there are new frontline services to assist people, right at the beginning of their stress rather than waiting until they're in an acute state."

Out of the $1.9 billion, over $60 million will be invested into suicide prevention with kaupapa Māori based strategies in suicide prevention. 

Health Minister David Clark says, "What’s important about that is, is that its co-designed, that the design is led by Māori for Māori, and Pacific communities also. Also in that new frontline service across New Zealand its $455 million over four years, $62 million of that is exclusively for kaupapa Māori services."

Milner-Skudder concludes, "I think if you have a platform of influence, than you might as well use it to benefit, but in saying that it’s a collective issue as well, you know, us as a whole country we need to jump on board and start doing things a bit better."

The number of suicides in New Zealand has reached its highest-ever level, with 685 people dying in the year to June 30. That almost doubles the 2018 road toll where 377 lives were lost.