Mental health advocate Mike King named 2019 New Zealander of the Year | Stuff.co.nz

Mental health advocate Mike King has been named Kiwibank 2019 New Zealander of the Year.

King, the television personality and comedian turned mental health educator, received the award from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday night. 

Chief judge of the awards Cameron Bennett said King was a “wonderfully complex and compelling Kiwi”.

“His determination to shine a light on the effects and impacts of mental health, particularly among Māori and young people, is as uncompromising as it is confronting,” Bennett said. 

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“Mike’s in your face, brutally honest and hugely funny, he doesn’t back down.”

“It’s that courage and resolve that makes him so relatable to at-risk rangitahi that others can’t reach, Mike King is a great New Zealander of the Year,” Bennett said. 

Working alongside other mental health professionals, King has been the driving force behind many initiatives helping shift the way New Zealanders think about mental health, drawing on his own experiences of mental illness. 

In 2018, King’s I Am Hope tour saw him and five other speakers tour schools, churchs and community centres across the country on scooters to raise awareness about New Zealand’s youth suicide rate. 

King was raised in Whenuapai, north of Auckland, and in an interview with Stuff last year, he said he grew up with no self-esteem, no self-worth.

“All I ever wanted from my dad was for him to be proud of me … I always felt like I wasn’t good enough. I would describe my mum as having bipolar. You never knew what you were going to get – the beautiful, loving mum or the terror mum.”

He discovered booze at 13. Drugs followed. 

Lawrence Gullery
Mike King during a presentation to Matamata College, raising awareness about mental health issues.

Although humour was his ticket to social acceptance and would become his livelihood, he spoke of being an angry man struggling with his demons, which included two suicide attempts.

It wasn’t till he was 45 that he sought help for his mental well-being. He got clean, ditched the drink and drugs and went on to start his radio show, the Nutters Club, on which callers discuss mental health issues.

His work with kids, which began in 2013, was a voyage of discovery.

But it didn’t sit well with his stand-up career.

DAVID UNWIN/STUFF
Chief judge Cameron Bennett said King was a “wonderfully complex and compelling Kiwi”.

“I didn’t realise how toxic stand-up comedy was to my mental well-being. We look for things that p… us off and put a funny twist on it but you’re always looking for the negative.

“By saying the stuff I was saying, it actively encouraged others to say it too. I had to make a choice. I could carry on doing what I was doing or I could carry on with this new love that I’d found.”

Comedy lost out and King has since become the voice of mental health.

He sat on the Government suicide prevention panel but quit last year, saying the draft plan was deeply flawed.

“I knew the day I started on the panel in 2015 that I was going to be leaving when they started talking about funding, when they talked about starting with a blank piece of paper.”

This year a total of 448 nominations were received for the title of New Zealander of the Year. 

Previous winners of the New Zealander of the Year Award were Kristine Bartlett (2018), Taika Waititi (2017), Richie McCaw (2016), Sir Stephen Tindall (2015) and Dr Lance O’Sullivan (2014)

This content was originally published here.