Tai Tupou wants to let local students know that it’s ok to be dealing with mental health issues. After all, he knows firsthand what it’s like.

Tai, who is the youth programme development manager for I Am Hope, is speaking at events organised with schools to share his story and let the students know that there is always support.

“By having these events in schools our mission is to create the conversation to normalise issues,” says Tai.

I am Hope, the youth and community focused support group is run by The Key to Life Charitable Trust, started by Mike King.

“We talk to the kids about their inner critic, the way we all talk to ourselves in horrible ways,” says Tai.

He says, kids look up to adults thinking they are perfect, but the reality is nobody has all their stuff together.

“Me doing what I do, coming and talking with the students lets them know that adults are not perfect, and that they, the kids, don’t need to be either.”

He says, we’re brought up to look up to our elders, to respect them but that can put pressure on ourselves to always be trying to please them. To continually seek to win over approval and respect can leave kids feeling unsupported.

Since 2013 Tai and Mike have been to schools all over New Zealand and spoken to around 250,000.

“We focus on the young as they are the country’s future and the future audience,” says Tai.

After any session with a group of students, around 30 or 40 of them will approach Tai and youth ambassadors that travel with him.

Tai says the students grab the opportunity of having someone to listen to them and to share the issues they are facing.

Both Mike and Tai give out their personal phone numbers at every school so the students can still reach out after the event. They listen and then Mike and Tai put them on the path to someone who can help them going forward.

“I wanted to be a journalist,” says Tai. “But I quit university after two months because I didn’t have the confidence to communicate.

“It took me 10 years to finally take education seriously after I left school and now, I have a Bachelor of Social Services majoring in mental health. 

After I got therapy, the world was my oyster, and my life had a complete turnaround,” he says.

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