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An empty space that could save a life

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Two University of Waikato students want to help stop young people killing themselves by putting positive mental health messages on every school and university exercise book in the country.

Kale Isaac and Taylor Hamlin are working to have exercise book-making companies print the positive messages on the outside backpage - a space that is usually left blank, or filled with something like an abstract pattern.

The pair point to the use of negative messages on cigarette packets to deter smoking. They think a similar tactic spreading positive messages about mental health will also work.

Kale says he came up with the idea because being from Gisborne, which has a high suicide rate, he has to return home often for funerals. "It’s the same thing every funeral, I’m hearing people speak about having to make changes, but not seeing many actual changes. Then you’re back there within no time for another funeral."

I was very much brought up in a ‘harden up’ society where talking about mental health was seen as a weakness. Things have started to change, like John Kirwan, Mike King and others speaking out. But we really want to push things out and get positive messages through to young people.

The aim of the project is to have an impact on every child in New Zealand. For the two Waikato students it is also about not being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, but helping kids to express themselves, and improve mental health before they get to the edge of the cliff. They’ve already been in touch with a number of textbook manufacturers, mental health professionals and are due to meet with policy makers next month.

Taylor says a wide age range of people would be using the books, from 5 to 35+, so figuring out age appropriate messages is tricky. "We’re looking to use cartoon animals. At the moment we have a kiwi, and it could be joined by other native animals. We are also working on appropriate wording for specific positive messages."

They’re also looking at how to pitch the idea to business. Taylor says the focus is to get people thinking about the cause, not the object -a ‘concept product’ of sorts. "You’re not buying an exercise book, you’re buying something that’s going to reinforce positive mental health and resilience for kids."

Kale says that the exercise books are just the start "Through the forum -Positive Messages for Kiwi Kids, we plan on expanding into new spaces outside of exercise books to push these key messages out there."

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