By: Lincoln Tan
Chinese international student Ben Li, 22, came to New Zealand with dreams of gaining a business and marketing degree.
Instead, Li (not his real name) ended up with a gambling addiction that spurred thoughts of ending his own life.
Li is one of thousands who turned to Asian Family Services for help last year, as mental health issues continue to grow in Asian communities in New Zealand.
Suicide deaths among Asians rose from 5.93 to 8.69 per 100,000 according to the annual provisional suicide statistics for deaths reported to the Coroner between July 1 last year and June 30, 2018.
The number calling the Asian helpline also rose from 2786 to 2835 over the same period – 188 of those who called were international students.
Li started going to the casino to fight boredom, and thought it was “much better than staying home playing fighting games on the computer”.
Within two months, he was going there almost every day and his gambling stakes increased.
“I experienced bad luck and lost all my money, even the money my parents transferred over to pay for my school fees,” Li said.
“I tried to stop going to the casino many times but failed. I was so depressed and felt so hopeless, I wished I would have a car accident and die to end it all.”
Kelly Feng, the service’s national director, said there was a concern over the spike in Asians seeking help for mental health issues and suicide in the community.
“Our Asian helpline is seeing more calling for help over loneliness, social and family matters,” Feng said.
“But we find the biggest obstacle in dealing with members of the community is the stigma attached to mental health and most feel that seeking help is a loss of face.”
The service is launching a suicide prevention resource for Chinese on Tuesday , as Mental Health Awareness Week gets under way.
“There is a desperate need for such resources, but there is just no funding to produce them,” Feng said.
“Prior to this, there are no culturally and linguistically appropriate suicide resources available for the Chinese or any of the Asian ethnic communities in New Zealand.”
The resource would include a video titled Tomorrow will be better in Cantonese and Mandarin, and a presentation looking at links between loneliness and suicide.
Green Party mental health spokeswoman Chloe Swarbrick has been calling for better services to help address the mental health crisis in New Zealand.
Last year, 668 people in New Zealand died by suicide from July 2017 to June 2018 – the highest since records began.
Maori deaths were also the highest since records began, with 142 deaths over the same period.
Overall, the suicide rate per 100,000 was 13.67, up from 12.64 the previous year.
“The mental health sector has been chronically underfunded, yet demand for services has grown significantly,” Swarbrick said.
She said stigma around mental health issues was still too high, and there were negative stereotypes attached to people asking for help or even speaking out.
“We need to end that stigma so people can be comfortable in opening up, often when they’re at their most vulnerable,” Swarbrick added.
A Government inquiry into mental health and addiction was under way and would help develop an action plan.
Meanwhile, the Korean Consulate in Auckland was funding a series of K-Pop dance workshops to raise mental health awareness and spirits.
“Mental illness is on the rise in New Zealand, especially among youth,” Korean consul general Baekwan Hong said.
A Unicef report said New Zealand had the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world.
Last year, the highest number of suicides was among the 20 to 24-year-old age group, with 76 deaths.
Hong said the workshops aligned with the Mental Health Foundation’s five ways to wellbeing, which were: be active, keep learning, give, take notice and connect.
“They’re giving their time to be there, learning something new, connecting with people, taking notice by being in the moment and being active,” Hong said.
The workshops at Ellen Melville Centre in Freyberg Place, Auckland will be led by internationally acclaimed choreographer Rina Chae.
This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week runs from today to 14.
This year’s theme is “Let nature in, strengthen your wellbeing – Mā te taiao, kia whakapakari tōu oranga”.
The five ways to wellbeing had been adapted to fit the nature theme with ways to connect with Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatūānuku, the earth mother; keep learning about Māori ancestral knowledge and New Zealand history; and give back to nature.
WHERE TO GET HELP:
Asian Helpline – 0800 862 342
1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor
Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email email@example.com or online chat
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
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 7pm–10pm daily.
Kidsline – 0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline) for young people up to 18 years of age. Open 24/7.
thelowdown.co.nz – or email firstname.lastname@example.org or free text 5626
Anxiety New Zealand – 0800 ANXIETY (0800 269 4389)
Supporting Families in Mental Illness – 0800 732 825
Source: NZ Herald