Children’s mental health advocate Mike King calls for ‘role models’ to be more vulnerable

Joint press release from Mike King and league star Wairangi Koopu

Mike King, mental health advocate and founder of I Am Hope, says now more than ever, Kiwi children need their role models and the people they look up to in order to be more vulnerable.

King’s comments ahead of iconic charity boxing event Fight for life on July 21, returning after a six-year hiatus, where sports icons and celebrities step into the ring to raise money for charity.

The event is headlined by rugby great and league icon Keven Mealamu and Wairangi Koopu. The undercard is headlined by sports greats such as Liam Messam, Carlos Spencer, Honey Hireme-Smiler and passionate mental health advocates and footy legends Paul Whatuira and James Gavet.

This year Fight for Life is raising money for the charity King’s I Am Hope and it’s only fitting that many celebrities on the map will bring their own gripping stories about mental health, some of which are heartbreaking but also inspiring, heartbreaking stories. ‘hope.

King says that in a sense, sports legends and performing artists carry a different kind of responsibility when they reach the top, because, knowingly or not, whether they like it or not, they become heroes for the children watching them go up.

“When you’re a little kid, especially a Maori or Polynesian kid, and you watch someone who looks like you succeed, you think maybe I could do it.

“But more importantly, when someone who looks like you and is on top, who starts talking about things like their mental health, doesn’t feel good enough, doesn’t feel lovable, or fights against the relentless inner criticism that challenges his sense of worth, you might think, hey, if this guy feels it and he’s so great, maybe I’m not crazy, maybe that’s normal, just maybe I have nothing wrong.

Halfway through the main event of Fight for Life, 42-year-old league star Wairangi Koopu says fighting at an event with I Am Hope as the main charity is an opportunity to to highlight and express the mental health issues of Maori and Polynesian people, especially for men of the same age, who struggle every day.

“This is an opportunity to introduce myself. Now more than ever, we need to be vulnerable and raise awareness and have these discussions and normalize these discussions. If it takes two nice guys trying to whip each other for three two-minute rounds to get that message across, then that’s going to be fantastic.

Koopu says he had to reach out and ask for help when he was going through a tough time and wants to let others know that with help they come through it.

“I had been struggling for a year or two with this inner critic. Along with self-esteem and confidence, a lack of identity and a lack of drive. I loved what I did for a living and I have a very holistic approach to what I do, but it’s not like I’ll be able to buy a house anytime soon or save enough to go forward.

“In order to pull myself out of the depression I was in, I reached out and asked for help and guidance. I had to constantly work on small daily battles. I had to make small victories every day, come back to my Maori roots and drawing strength from my ancestry to help me out of this ratcheting place I was in – and I finally succeeded.

“Now I recognize that these little things are necessary proactive steps to improve my mental health and I recognize that I may be back in this dark place in the future, but I have the confidence to know that the skills and information I have now will help me out of this dark place.

Koopu says mental health issues don’t always mean total depression.

“Other times I’d be stuck in a rut, maybe not depressed, but I felt like I wasn’t really going anywhere, I felt a little down, and I had these creepy voices that came back ‘you’re not good enough’, ‘you’re not good enough’, etc.

“I contacted a few people and one of them was Jimi Hunt. It came out that I was very good at taking care of myself physically, through training, physical activity and nutrition, but I I needed to train my mind as well as my body. I needed to improve my mind, and I didn’t know how at first, so I learned.

“It took a crisis to really look at this. Had to try meditation, which I do every day now, had to journal my thoughts to help me clutter my mind and make my mental activity something tangible that I could watch , we had to create a morning routine.

King says Koopu’s story is a powerful story of hope not only for children, but for all Kiwis struggling with their self-esteem and day-to-day expectations.

Just recently, the passionate mental health advocate received photos of pages inside a book purchased from an ops store by a young boy in the community. The scribbles in the book moved staff and volunteers to tears.

“The pages of this book were covered in scribbles from another child who had it before. The writing in it broke all of our hearts.

The scribbles on the book spelled out sentences that said:

I have no friends, I have no future, I have no love.

I have the worst life ever.

I wish I had never been born.

Nobody loves Me. I am ugly and fat.

She insults me. My mother hates me.

My mother hates me. She wishes I had never been born.

“That’s what the kids have in mind. Just sit with these words for a minute, you will feel their weight in your heart. Carrying these thoughts will kill a person. These thoughts are the root of our abysmal suicide statistics.

“So we can’t just walk around saying ‘open up’, ‘reach out’, ‘ask for help’. We must be the change ourselves. Are you the person to whom a child, a young person, a person going through this ordeal can open up? How do you behave? Who are you today?”

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