‘We lose our voice’ by not speaking out

From Te Ahi Kaa, 6:06 pm on 4 December 2016

James Rakena Robinson works in suicide prevention and awareness and has founded the online platform Outside the Comfort Zone for those who need to talk.

In 2007, Robinson lost his daughter to pneumonia when she was just 14-months old. The tragedy was the catalyst for his depression - he was bed-ridden and locked himself away from the world.

When he shares this part of his life at conferences or wānanga, he talks about having two choices during this time, the first is to end his life or to get away from everything and go overseas.

Robinson, who was born and raised in Rotorua, had earlier enrolled in a tourism course at the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic.

So a few months after his daughter's death, he decided to take up a job offer as a tourist guide in Europe. But the emotional pain was still there - albeit away from home. He stayed in London for eighteen months and decided to return to New Zealand to study social sciences and psychology at the University of Otago.

Today, almost ten years on from the loss of his daughter, Robinson now works in suicide prevention, awareness and intervention, and how families can understand the signs and learn the tools to address it in their own whānau and community.

It’s a role, he says, that must be about putting yourself first and it’s a job that can’t be done when your own ‘cup’ is empty.  

His approach is about having a conversation, something he says is not easy for many who have been told to either suck it up, or get tough.

“It’s about being strong enough to have a balance, once whānau feel like they understand me we can build that relationship ... I’m that guy that’s just there, flick the kettle and talk it out simple as it is it just works”

James Rakena Robinson founded Outside The Comfort Zone social media presence for those who just want to talk.

James Rakena Robinson founded Outside The Comfort Zone social media presence for those who just want to talk. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

To promote his messages of support, hardcase quips, inspirational quotes and advice he created the health and wellness Facebook page and social media platform, Outside the Comfort Zone.

James describes it as a safe haven on social media for whānau or people who are dealing with issues that they can’t share with their loved ones such as bullying, cyber bullying, depression, and anxiety or bottled up mamae (pain) that may result in suicidal risk.

"When we have a default setting of being taught not to talk or not to share, we lose our voice”.

James works at a grassroots level with runs Hauora (marae based health services) called Before the Light. He attended his final session with Waipu Hauora at Hungahungatōroa Marae in Tauranga this year. His workshops are run over six sessions and are open to anyone who wants a safe space to talk about issues relating to suicide.

Earlier this year James worked with families in the Far North.

“It was whānau who had lost someone or in fear of the ripple effect happening to their loved ones and that’s one of the biggest risk.  If someone has lost their lives to whakamōmori (suicide) there’s a huge ripple effect that may happen. One of the blessings thorough that darkness, was that a lot of rangatahi (young people) got in touch with me to say we can feel this anxiety coming in our friends, in ourselves, can you come”

James lives in Māketu but spends a lot of this time on the road, when he is not working he likes to switch off from work.

“The tāonga of simplistic energy, I hike, I go trekking … I pick rongoā. My mum was a weaver she did a lot of raranga and mum used to fix the whāriki around the pa, I tried to be that guy. I was like 'okay mums gone now and I’ve picked up the mantle' … I’m gonna go do the whariki in the pa, and yeah, I wrecked them (laughs).”

For more information about issues mentioned in this week’s show you can get help by making contact with the following:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email (talk@youthline.co.nz)

What's Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.