Kira Evenden, 14, was inspired to share her experience of mental health despite being not allowed to speak it at her school. Photo: Charles Anderson.

Kira takes mental health talk online after school rejection


A secondary school student’s speech advocating speaking out about mental health was rejected by her school for being inappropriate.

Kira Evenden, 14, says she was inspired to put forward a speech for Garin College’s annual arts festival Mahi Toi. She wanted to talk about mental health, something that was close to her heart. She had been diagnosed with depression and could not understand why talking openly about it was such a problem.

“I like people knowing that it is ok,” Kira says. “I’ve never got why it’s such a secret.”
She thought the statistics backed up her position – two people will die and 20 hospitalised in New Zealand each week due to mental health related issues.

“That’s just horrible and I needed to say it.”

She wrote about how mental health was not in the curriculum and how it was difficult to speak about these issues.


“You’d think with mental health issues being this common there would be some education around it, right? … But no it’s not even in the curriculum … how are [people] supposed to ask for help when we don’t teach these things?”

She wrote about how, as a teenager, it was important to speak openly with anyone you felt comfortable with. Kira also spoke about what depression felt like – how those who live with it often isolate themselves.

“Finding something to look forward to everyday is a real challenge. For me it is the arts.”

They were her “road back”.

However, after submitting her speech she was told that the content was not appropriate.

“I was gutted to be honest. I was looking forward to it. I was ready.”

She sent her mother a message.

“The only thing I’m scared about is that it won’t be said.”

So, then her mother, Katie Botham, had an idea. She shared the speech on social media. As of yesterday, it had reached more than 2500 people. Mental health advocate Mike King shared it and there has been nothing but positive comments.

“Someone said ‘thank you for this. Now I understand mental health better’. It feels like I’m making a difference just but this really simple speech,” Kira says. “That was the most meaningful thing.”

Katie says it feels like Garin missed out on that opportunity. “I respect their decision but I don’t have to like it.”

Kira says she is proud to study there and it was never about being negative about the school.

“I just wanted people to hear what I had to say.”

Garin board of trustees chair Lisa Dunn said that the Mahi Toi was not the appropriate forum for the speech.

“There might have been other parents who will be dealing with or close members of their whanau who had to deal with the effects of mental health issues. There would have been students who are primary and intermediate age.

“It was not the content of the speech but the forum.”

Lisa says the school is very proactive when it came to mental health issues, including having specialist counsellors on campus.

“We are actively and continually looking for students to debate and discuss issues.”

She says that they encouraged Kira to speak at other forums at school.

“We didn’t want the ban the speech but we have to think in context of the forum.”

Do me a favour.

Look to your left, now your right, in front of you and now behind you.

Chances are, at least one of the people you see around you will suffer from psychological distress during their teen years.

One in five teenagers in New Zealand will suffer from depression or anxiety within these years. The Unicef report found the New Zealand suicide rate -teenagers between 15 and 19- to be the highest in a long list of 41 OECD and EU countries. That rate is twice as high as the US rate and almost five times that of Britain.

So you’d think that with mental health issues being this common there’d be some education around it right? I mean if that many people were dying of measles there would be huge inoculation programs and wide spread panic. But no, we don’t talk about mental health, it’s not even included in the curriculum. So how’s a young person struggling alone with mental health supposed to know that experiencing a mental illness is common? That it’s not to be ashamed of, and how to find help? How are they supposed to ask for help on a deeply personal level when we don’t teach these things?

How does depression effect me? Imagine you get up in the morning, and you are asked, cereal or toast for breakfast. Seems uncomplicated right? We make thousands of decisions every day, most of them seemingly straightforward. For me those decisions are a lot more complicated. I stop. I frantically plead my brain to come up with an answer and the more I am indecisive, the more I become panicked and the harder it is to choose, and this is all before breakfast. If I can’t make this simple choice, how on earth can I possibly be expected to make decisions that will have an impact on my life and a future I can’t yet see or control? I feel helpless and lost in a tide of indecision and panic has me frustrated. Why can’t I just pick one! I don’t even like cereal!

Over and over I am faced with this situation every day. I was diagnosed with a mental illness at the end of last year. Some days are good. I feel in control. Some days I feel like the world is leaving me behind. With my diagnosis came help. There is no quick answer for mental illness and everyone makes their own way through. Help comes in many forms and it’s a combination of all that gets me through and will see me reach full health. For some, medication holds part of the answer, therapy and counselling helps and it’s freely available.

For me it’s my contact with family and friends that make a dramatic difference. Friends who make contact everyday, who listen, who remind me to quieten my thoughts to clear the fog are vital to recovery. People with depression tend to isolate themselves, withdrawing and hiding from the world because facing it is so much harder. Isolation only compounds the feelings of worthlessness and loneliness. Finding something to look forward to in everyday is a real challenge, especially on bleak days. For me, it’s the arts. Drama classes outside of school, photographic opportunities and music all have their place in my road back.

Sometimes life sucks. It is hard and as teenagers we are in the most emotive stage of our lives. Depression can get so bad that you feel that it is not worth going on, or that everyone would be better off without you. If you’re feeling this way, you need to get help right now. Talk to your mum, your teacher, your friends you love, your church leaders, hell talk to me! Help is easy to get, but no one can help you if they don’t know how you are doing. This is the hardest part. Things get easier, that weight you’re carrying gets lighter when it’s shared. And one day, you won’t even have to think, you will answer toast straight away.

Be kind to yourselves, be kind to each other. You never know what the other person next to you is going through.

As Morris Mandel said, “The darkest hour is only sixty minutes.”