NZ Herald Column Kyle MacDonald

Break The Silence: How to have hope

This is my column this week in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday…

Hope is a strange thing. In many ways it involves deluding ourselves, or at least making up a future (which is ultimately unknown) that is positive.

Of course, no one knows what the future holds, for good or for ill.

But given that we humans have the ability to conjure up a vision of the future, it’s better that it’s a positive one. In fact, it seems to be vital that it is: Despair, depression, and ultimately suicide are marked by a lack of a positive view of the future, or indeed any view of the future at all.

So how does this useful delusion develop?

The obvious conclusion is that the past predicts the future, and there is some truth to that. If we grow up in – or even as adults experience – a lot of adversity that can certainly suck the hope out of us. It can leave us believing that bleakness is the constant.

But many people grow up with plenty of adversity and also find ways to maintain a sense of hopefulness.

So think about what we do with young children: When they come to us with their fears and worries we scoop them up and tell them everything is going to be alright.

We plant the seeds of hope.

As parents, we know we can’t actually guarantee that everything will be alright. We know we don’t know what the future holds. We might be frightened, worried, upset ourselves. But we don’t say any of that.

We hold them tight and we say everything is going to be okay.

The seeds of hope grow in love, and it is love (or connection if you prefer the less sentimental version) that enables hope to flourish.

Disconnection, feeling unloved – or unlovable – ultimately leads to despair.

This week New Plymouth Boys High School Headmaster Paul Veric took the courageous step of talking to his students about mental health and suicide.

He also talked about the importance of love.

“Love is a word you need to understand. You need to get comfortable with it. If we have any chance of reversing the trend of young people feeling helpless, we have a greater chance of overcoming it by caring for each other.”

His full speech is on the school’s Facebook page. It has gained national attention and praise from mental health campaigner Mike King, who recently spoke at the school.

We all need to understand love better. And we all need to put love back in the centre of our conversations with families, communities and at a political level.

I applaud the New Zealand Herald for its Break the Silence series of stories. As a country we need to talk more about suicide.

But let’s also Break the Silence on love. Because without love, there is no hope. Without hope we will keep losing our young people to suicide, and when we lose them, our country loses its future.

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