In his line of work, medium Kelvin Cruickshank has met many hundreds of people living with the pain of losing a loved one to suicide.
The former Sensing Murder star regularly tours the country doing shows in which he connects people with loved ones who've passed away, and says it's rare for an event not to include at least one reading with an audience member grieving someone who has taken their own life.
Some nights, there are numerous suicide readings."I see so many people who are broken by losing friends and family members this way, and it saddens me so much," says Kelvin (47), who has himself had a close friend take their own life.
"It's very close to home for so many New Zealanders, including me."
Last year the country's suicide rate was the highest since records began, with 668 people taking their own lives. We have the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world, and that's horrific, says Kelvin.
"These days you hear about 12 and 13-year-olds taking their lives, and you're shocked by that. Then recently, I heard about a nine-year-old girl who did it. Nine! When I heard about that case, I sat there with tears streaming down my face thinking, 'What the hell is this world coming to?'"
The dad-of-two has decided to do his bit to help and is using his final show of the year, in Auckland on December 8, to raise money for a good cause − suicide awareness and prevention.
His personal assistant, Gemma Cappel, suggested I Am Hope, the charitable trust set up by comedian turned campaigner Mike King, and Kelvin couldn't think of a better fit.
"I was keen to go with Mike's charity, because I believe in what he is doing. He is getting out there talking to our young ones and he's making a difference," says Kelvin.
Mike (56) has spent this year travelling around New Zealand for his I Am Hope Aotearoa tour, during which he has given talks to schools and community groups about suicide and mental health.
"Mike is honest and he tells it like it is," says Kelvin, who has invited Mike to attend his show.
"He's taken a lot on his shoulders to do this – he is an outstanding human being with a huge heart.
"He's all about encouraging people to talk about what they are going through and to ask for help, and I think that is crucial. They are three little words – "I need help" – and if only people would say them, it could make a huge difference."
He wishes a good friend of his had been able to say those words to him. The pair became close while training to be chefs as teenagers, and Kelvin was devastated when his mate took his life after Kelvin dropped him home one day.
"I knew something wasn't right, but I didn't know it was that bad," says Kelvin. "I had tried to get him to talk about what was going on with him, but he refused, and then he went and killed himself.
"I was just heartbroken that he hadn't been able to talk to me, and I blamed myself for not knowing he was in that place."
His friend died before Kelvin came to terms with his abilities to communicate with spirits, but he still felt terrible guilt that he hadn't realised his mate was suicidal.
"I see so many people at my shows who have that same guilt – if only they had done things differently, if only they had made their friend or their child talk to them about what was going on."Sometimes there is nothing you could have done, but I just want to say to people, if you notice that things aren't right with someone, tell them, 'Okay, I care about you and what you're going through, and you need to spill your guts.'"
There is no shame in having mental health issues, no matter what age you are, he says, and there is help available to get you through tough times.
Used to hearing tragic stories about lives cut short, the medium says he has been moved by one in particular.
It was shared by a man who is helping with Kelvin's fundraising for I Am Hope by donating to a silent auction.
"This guy wants to help Mike's charity because he has lost friends to suicide, but he also managed to resuscitate one in time."Twenty-five years later this friend came to him and said, 'I never thanked you for saving my life. If I hadn't been revived by you, I wouldn't have my beautiful wife or my lovely family. I wouldn't be where I am today. Thank you.'
"I know that when people hit rock bottom they can find it hard to see that life can be good again, but believe me, it can be. There is help out there – you just have to ask for it."
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Good Health ChoicesJul 14, 2019