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Grief that never goes away

Grief that never goes away
Leon Heripo is comforted at the first Hakatere Hope March in 2019, which he helped to organise. PHOTO ASHBURTON GUARDIAN

If there's one thing Leon Heripo would tell other parents, it's to hug their kids every day.

It's something he very much wishes he could still do with his beloved daughter, Te Aroha Leigh.

The Methven 15-year-old took her own life in 2015.

"She was a life taken too soon, a very well liked girl," Leon said.

"But when teenagers get to that age of hiding their feelings, their whereabouts, that is a hard one."

Leon agreed to speak about his family's tragic loss following the release of the latest provisional suicide statistics on Thursday.

In the financial year to June 30, 565 people died by suspected suicide and the rate was 10.6 people per 100,000.

In Canterbury the rate was 12.8, up from 8.9 the year before.

October is an extremely hard month for the Heripo family.

Not only did Te Aroha Leigh pass away on October 22, but Leon's niece also died in that month.

"On the day it happened, I just get deja vu. Everything gets repeated," he said of October 22.

"My soul knew there was something wrong."

One ray of light for the family is that their grandson was born this month.

"Our grandson came into this world to bring some warmth to our hearts."

Despite everything they were going through, the family still found the strength to try to help others.

Leon and wife Liz instigated the first Hakatere Hope March in 2019.

"There have been, over the years, a lot of suicides in Methven, in Mid Canterbury," Leon said.

"We wanted to get it across that it's not alright to be on your own."

But they ultimately had to move out of Methven. They would see their daughter everywhere.

"It was the best thing we've done."

As the family struggles through another tough October, he wants parents to remember to show their kids as much aroha as they can.

"If they need a hug, hug them. Hug them with all your might.

"It could be the last bit of love they get."


Ministry of Health suicide prevention office acting director Dr Sarah Hetrick said the data was collected, used and published as an important way to understand how we
are progressing towards an Aotearoa that does not experience suicide.

“Our focus remains on reducing the burden of suicide, which requires a systems-level, whole-of government response that addresses structural determinants such as poverty, racism, discrimination and post-colonial legacy.

"We also need to reduce exposure to factors that increase the risk of suicide such as violence of all types, alcohol-related harm, stand-down and exclusion from schools and harmful communication about self-harm and suicide.”

The national rate for the 22/23 year is lower than the average rate over the last 14 financial years, and lower than the rate immediately prior to covid-19 in the 18/19 financial year, which was 13.1 per 100,000 people.

The decrease was not considered statistically significant, and New Zealand remains in step with international data that shows no change, or a decrease, in rates of suicide over the past several years.

Māori continue to be disproportionately negatively affected. The provisional rate of suspected suicide for Māori is 15.8 per 100,000 people for the 22/23 financial year, and this has not changed compared with the average over the past 14 years.

Where to get help

• Lifeline: Call 0800 543 354 or text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: Call 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: Call 0800 376 633 or text 234
• What's Up: Call 0800 942 8787 (11am to 11pm) or webchat (11am to 10.30pm)
• Depression helpline: Call 0800 111 757 or text 4202 (available 24/7)
• Helpline: Need to talk? Call or text 1737

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

By Daisy Hudson