'It's a cause I'm passionate about it' - Comm Games weightlifting gold medallist David Liti turns attention to Pasifika youth suicide prevention

Our Commonwealth Games break-out star, gold medal weightlifter Tongan-Kiwi David Liti, is on a suicide prevention mission after learning too many in his own Pasifika community have taken their lives. 

From January 1996 to December 2013, 380 Pacific Islanders in New Zealand died by suicide, averaging 22 deaths per year, according to research in the New Zealand Medical Journal.

The study published in 2017 also found Pacific youth are disproportionately three times more likely to attempt suicide than New Zealand Europeans. 

In recent weeks, the 21-year-old has returned to his old stomping ground - One Tree Hill College (where he was once a prefect) and Papatoetoe High School for the Live Undefeated suicide prevention campaign - to speak about the cause.

"It's a cause I'm passionate about, because I learnt back when I was in high school that New Zealand has the top rate of suicide in the world (OECD), and a lot of that statistic was Tongans actually committing suicide," Liti told 1 NEWS.

"It's hard for me to hear all these things about my own people and if I can help in a certain way that would be good for me and for them as well." 

Liti was celebrated for his care for others during the Games in April when he was presented with the David Dixon Award for sportsmanship at the Closing Ceremony.

The award was recognition for the respect and kind words he showed friend and weightlifting rival Lautiti Lui, who injured himself during the men's 105kg+ weightlifting final.

The award was a testament to his character, Liti's coach Tina Ball told 1 NEWS.

"He has a real care around family and community."

The 21-year-old is hoping to inspire the next generation of Auckland youth. Source: Seven Sharp

And since returning "he's trying to give back in his own way, speaking to youth groups. Looking at the suicide prevention programme, things like that," Ms Ball said.

Liti told 1 NEWS Dame Valerie Adams gave him a piece of advice that has stuck with him recently.

"She just mentioned that I might not have a lot of power at the moment, but I do have a power to voice my opinions and that's what I'm trying to do."

In the eyes of his coach, Liti's success hasn't been limited to winning, but seeing him grow as a person.

"Those values have been ingrained in David before my time from his own family, but being able to guide and assist and find opportunities to use those it's just rewarding."

What's next for the pair?

In the short term Ball's focus will be getting Liti to the 2018 World Weightlifting Championships, in Turkmenistan in November.

"But the main focus is 2020 Japan Olympics, building up to that, going milestone to milestone and seeing what happens," said Liti.

In considering a future beyond weightlifting, Liti's goals are community focused.

"I'll probably get into more coaching, but in the future I do want to build my own institute and see what I can do, and see if I can scout kids from the islands to come over and have a better opportunity and chance of succeeding in life as well."

After visiting family in Tonga for a holiday after the Commonwealth Games, Liti said he spotted a few who have potential already.

"I have a little cousin, he's the naughty boy in Tonga, but if he did do weightlifting he'd be pretty good. He's just a little tank."

Where can I get help?

Need to talk? 1737 – Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor
Lifeline – 0800 543 354
Youthline - 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Healthline – 0800 611 116
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 or free text 4202 or
The Lowdown: A website to help young New Zealanders recognise and understand depression or anxiety. or free text 5626 – Online e-therapy tool provided by the University of Auckland that helps young people learn skills to deal with feeling down, depressed or stressed
OUTLine NZ – 0800 688 5463 for support related to sexual orientation or gender identity

The nationwide awareness campaign by Undefeated tours New Zealand schools, sharing a message of hope and purpose though a show including hip-hop sets, MC and inspirational youth communicators.