Mike King says he had a mental breakdown last month as New Zealander of the Year pressures mounted

The stress of being named New Zealander of the Year, and the notoriety that comes with the title, contributed to Mike King having what he said was a mental breakdown last month, he revealed today on Breakfast. 

Mr King, who appeared on the TVNZ1 programme to help announce that nominations are now open for next year's New Zealander of the Year honour, acknowledged the pressure associated with his mental health advocacy increased after receiving the title. 

"I didn't realise how heavy that mantle is, especially when you're talking about mental health," he explained. "So when I feel down, I work harder and then I try and fix the world, and I needed to fix everything.

"When you've got over 100,000 people on social media messaging you, texting you – and I'm the guy most likely to say 'yes' because I’m a people-pleaser, I want to please everybody – and the weight of it just started weighing me down. [There are] people texting you going, 'I'm going to take my own life tonight', people ringing you and leaving messages [like], 'You're New Zealander of the Year but you do nothing, you don't deserve it.'"

Mr King said he initially "didn't realise the impact that being New Zealander of the Year would have." After five years of being nominated for the title and losing, it wasn't until he actually won that he realised just how important of an issue mental health is to New Zealanders. 

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King won for his work as a mental health advocate. Source: 1 NEWS

"I mean, we had 530,000 people download that New Zealander of the Year frame and that's when it really hit me that this was something that we could use as a platform to really drag mental health into the spotlight," he said. "So in that regard, [the honour has been] absolutely phenomenal, absolutely amazing, very humbling."

Mr King said while it's terrifying to bring mental health into the spotlight, "it's good in that it's a topic of conversation and we're trying to change the conversation away from 'if you’re in crisis, ask for help' to 'if you haven't had a friend talk to you about their problems, you're probably the problem'.

"We all have problems, and if you haven't had a mate come to you in the last 12 months and talk about their feelings – not 'my wife's being horrible' but 'I am feeling like this and I'm feeling like that' – then you're the problem. You need to look in the mirror and ask yourself, 'What am I doing to make it OK for people to ask for help?'"

Mr King said he was lucky to have a group of friends to help him through his own breakdown – something he hopes other New Zealanders can have, too.

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No longer ‘the bridesmaid’, mental health advocate Mr King joked with media about being in the semi-finals five times. Source: 1 NEWS

"In order for that to happen, we have to give permission to people who aren't in crisis to go, 'It's OK, man.' You can tell your friends that you're there for them and you don't have to fix them – your job is to pathway them to the help that they need. But the most important thing that they need right now is for the conversation to start, to know you’re a safe person to talk to."

He said the best time to talk about how you're feeling is when you’re not in a crisis - it's also "the best time to tell your friends that you're there for them".

"What we usually do is we wait till our friends are in crisis and go, 'Oh mate, I’ve been there, I know exactly what you're going through,' and what you think you're saying or what you think you're conveying to your friend is, 'I've been where you are and things get better,' but what I'm hearing is, 'Oh, so even when you're in crisis, you're perfect, you get over everything - it must be just me.'"

Despite the stress that was added with his New Zealander of the Year title, it can also be a "beautiful and a humbling thing to have", he said, adding that it "took me a while to say that".

"When people complimented me, I would push it away, I would push it to one side because that's the Kiwi way – we don't celebrate success, we celebrate other people's success. My wife pointed it out quite rightly. She goes, 'What are you giving to our kids by brushing the success to one side? What you're actually teaching our kids is that you cannot be successful, so you nod, you say 'thank you’, you give people a big smile.'

"It took me a while to get that, so it's a brilliant thing to have, it's something that I wear with great pride."

Mr King said he hopes this year's New Zealander of the Year nominees are people who give selflessly to the wider community and "uplift other New Zealanders".

"If you're getting paid to do something, you're doing your job. There's lots of Kiwis out there who are heroes who are going out there and giving selflessly out there every single day. There are so many of them.

"For me, they're the New Zealanders of the Year and that's who I would like to see nominated next time - someone who is actually going to use this, not for self-glory, but to uplift other New Zealanders and shine a light on things that need to be sorted."

Source: TVNZ


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The mental health advocate joined Breakfast to discuss the honour ahead of this year’s awards. Source: Breakfast