Mental Health advocate and educator Mike King broke down in tears as he gave an emotional speech to supporters before returning his New Zealand Order of Merit medal at Parliament today.
It comes after King sent a letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in late May, telling her he felt "honoured" to receive the medal at the time, but now feels uncomfortable with it because of New Zealand's unchanged mental health landscape.
This afternoon King made good on his promise to return the award, delivering a speech before marching to Parliament where he handed the medal back.
"Everyone’s asking me how I feel giving the medal back. I feel nothing giving the medal back, but I feel a profound sense of sadness that no one’s listening - it’s not fair," King told a crowd gathered to hear him speak.
"There are people out there like me and we care and we are hearing and together we can all do something, make a change.
"We have become a nation where we think nothing can change and it’s not true, we can change."
During the hikoi to Parliament, King told 1 NEWS he was moved by the stories told to him by people accompanying him.
"Their stories aren't the propaganda we hear from the Ministry of Health, these are real stories and people are really suffering and they are struggling to get the help they need and the help they deserve."
When asked about Ardern's response to his medal return, King stated that he believed she is a "beautiful person who cares, but is getting bad advice".
"Politicians come and go, but bureaucrats stay the same, the same ones that are advising this Government were advising the last mob too," King says.
"If she really wants to make a change, how about she sweeps the floor of all the bureaucrats and talk to the people."
Ardern earlier told 1 NEWS she commended King's advocacy work and that he was deserving of the medal.
“I don’t think Mike has been in touch with me recently but I would like to assure him, and others, that we know the work to improve mental health care in New Zealand is not complete yet. We have made good steps but know there is much more to do.
“While I totally respect Mike’s decision, his honour was about the contribution he’s made to improving people’s lives – and that stands,” Ardern said.