Of all the stories that NZME told in 2017, few were as strong — and important to New Zealand as a nation — as those that made up the Break The Silence campaign.

For many around the world, New Zealand is viewed as a beautiful, peaceful paradise at the bottom of the world — an isolated, yet sophisticated, country considered an ideal place to relocate.

In many ways, those views are correct. But for too long one of the biggest concerns facing our country was allowed to be hidden away from the spotlight.

For more than three decades, successive governments enforced policies and legislation that kept our shocking suicide rates in the shadows. New Zealand has the second worst youth (25 and under) suicide rate in the developed world and the worst teen (15-19) suicide rate.

We wanted to encourage people who needed help to ask for it and to realise that there is hope. And in sparking a national conversation on the previous taboo subject of suicide, we wanted to encourage greater funding, care, and focus be directed to try to make a difference.

One aim of NZME's Break The Silence series was to connect people suffering from depression and mental illness with support and suicide prevention resources.
One aim of NZME's Break The Silence series was to connect people suffering from depression and mental illness with support and suicide prevention resources.

Break The Silence was a project that entailed six months of research before it launched. And sadly, given the attitudes which had previously kept much the focus off suicide, it was a story that some didn’t want to be told.

But we pushed ahead because we wanted to make a difference.

The campaign featured five separate investigations. Over a six-week period, the New Zealand Herald published more than 60 stories in print and online under the Break The Silence banner. That work was further amplified by the multiple radio brands owned by NZME.

Break The Silence has made a difference — something NZME is incredibly proud of.

Hundreds of readers contacted us during and after the campaign to share their own stories. We were able to put those who needed and wanted help in touch with health care professionals.

Some said the exposure we had given to New Zealand’s suicide toll, and also the services that were available for help, had saved them from self-harming.

A submission sent in from one reader touched us all: “I wanted to thank you, NZ Herald. You gave my life back and you can pat yourselves on the back as you’ve saved a life. I would have succeeded in silence at some point. Now I’m a new me.”

Break The Silence also had an incredible impact in the halls of power:

  • After our first investigation, the government at the time included in its budget a AUS$224 million boost for mental health, which included at least AUS$124 million for new initiatives.
  • After our third investigation, it released for the first time a report on suicide by the then prime minister’s chief science advisor. More funding also was earmarked for the Suicide Mortality Review Committee.
  • The Ministry of Education also acted, vowing after Break The Silence’s second investigation that it would review official guidelines on how schools handled student suicides. Advice available online was also updated.
  • New Zealand’s current government, which took office in October, also has launched a ministerial inquiry into mental health and addiction services.

Break The Silence was not an easy story to tell, but it was one that needed to be revealed. Saving just one life and ensuring just one family didn’t have to live through the pain of losing a family member to suicide would have made our campaign a success. And NZME’s powerful, moving, and truthful storytelling did far more than that.

We started a conversation and firmly broke the silence on a subject that has impacted far too many New Zealanders, but for too long wasn’t openly and constructively discussed and debated in our country.