Hair4Life and how hairdresser Che Kerr i

Empowering hairdressers
in suicide prevention
Che Kerr at the Waka Hourua conference
Hairdressers and barbers are often listening to intimate and traumatic stories
from clients who wouldn’t dare share them with their own family and friends.
Some of these stories involve suicide, or depression, which often causes angst
among those in the profession in how to deal with it. Hairdresser Che Kerr
had her own battle with suicide. That experience inspired her to run suicide
prevention awareness workshops for hairdressers and barbers, enabling those
in the profession to share their unique experiences as a way to recognise then
address potential tragedies and learning to cope and take care of themselves.
Che Kerr believes hairdressers are not only employed to cut hair,
but talk all day. Seeing her bubbly and radiant persona, it’s hard to
believe she once tried to take her own life. Those dark days were
when she wouldn’t, or felt she couldn’t, talk.
Deciding to eventually share her innermost thoughts, however,
saved her life. The 32-year-old is here today, living life to the full
with her husband Matt, and their two boys.
“I have a real joy of life now – that was something I couldn’t see
before,” Che says.
Of Tongan (Nuku’alofa) and Maori (Ngapuhi) descent, Che grew
up in Rotorua and was still at school when she first encountered
“A really good friend of mine took their own life at high school. We
were 16 years old – an age when you think people shouldn’t have a
care in the world,” she says.
she moved to work on Auckland’s Hibiscus Coast.
One day, a client came in, sat in the chair and told Che that her son
had taken his own life. Che burst into tears.
“I just wasn’t prepared for that conversation,” she recalls.
“As a hairdresser, nothing can prepare you for that type of
conversation and there were no guidelines or training available
back then for what to say or how to talk about it with a client.”
Soon after, Che’s cousin -took his life, leaving behind a partner and
two kids.
Needing a fresh break, Che moved to Sydney to work. She hit the
party scene hard. A year later she returned to the Hibiscus Coast,
depressed and deep in debt.
“I didn’t talk about it. All my friends were away at the time and I felt
really alone,” she recalls.
“That really stuck with me and I found it hard to get past.”
“And I felt shame for being depressed.”
At age 16, Che left school and took up hairdressing. Three years later
The combination of depression, debt, unemployment and enduring
8 Pacific Peoples Health
a relationship break-up over a period of months proved too much
for Che.
“I had bottled everything up. I thought what I was going through
was too big to share,” she says.
“That’s when I made the decision to take my own life.”
Eventually, she emerged out of the darkness. Once she began
talking about how she felt, the healing process began.
“When I finally did share, I learned problems are never as big as they
seem compared to when they’re stuck inside of your head,” she says.
“Talking is so important. In different cultures and in some families,
people find it hard to talk about suicide. But people need to talk
about their feelings and issues. Not talking nearly took my life. As a
survivor, I know talking is healing.”
if their clients appear to be at-risk.
“During the half-hour, I educate people about what signs to pick up
on and provide a list of resources,” she says.
“It’s important to remember that I’m not trying to raise a whole
lot of psychiatrists … just raise awareness of how people can help
Che delivered the pilot programme in late 2014 to salons and
gained positive feedback. She is working on a strategy to roll it
out further. Le Va fund Che’s workshops through Waka Hourua. Le
Va’s clinical lead Denise Kingi-’Ulu’ave also accompanies Che to
workshops providing support and guidance.
Last year, Che gave up hairdressing to be a stay at home mum.
When she learned of the alarmingly high suicide figures among
Maori and Pacific people, however, Che knew she had to do
“Hairdressers have access to many people and they have a unique
relationship with many of their clients,” she says.
Che believes there is something about being touched on the head,
a tapu area in Maori and many Pacific cultures. She says it relaxes
people, causing them to often share their thoughts and feelings
with their hairdresser. Che developed the concept of running
free 30-minute workshops for hairdressers and barbers, to raise
awareness about suicide, and provide information about what to do
The Le Va team members (l-r) Gerhard Sundborn
(Research Lead), Monique Faleafa (Chief
Executive), Denise Kingi-‘Ulu’ave (Clinical Lead)
and Jay Williams (FLO Co-ordinator)
FLO: Pasifika for life
Many of us have experienced the shock and sadness of losing someone who
has taken their own life. New Zealand has staggering rates of suicide and
attempted suicide – and the death and attempt rates are alarmingly higher
among Pacific and Maori people. In 2014 Maori and Pacific communities
joined forces in the form of Waka Hourua, the first-ever suicide prevention
programme of its kind. The Pacific programme, FLO: Pasifika for Life, is for
the first time opening up the conversation on a national level for Pasifika
communities to develop their own solutions.
Every year, around 500 people take their own lives, while many
more attempt it. For one suicide death, at least 6 others are severely
impacted by grief and have an increased risk for suicide between 2
and 10 times higher than the general population.
well being for Pasifika, is leading FLO - NZ’s first ever national Pacific
suicide prevention programme. Waka Hourua, brings together Le
Va and Te Rau Matatini, with a shared vision and common cause of
reducing suicides among their people.
Suicide in New Zealand is an ethnically disproportionate issue.
One in five people who die by suicide are Māori, and Pacific
people attempt suicide three times more often than the general
Speaking at the first Waka Hourua national hui-fono in November,
clinical psychologist Dr Faleafa emphasised that they will be doing
things differently for Pasifika suicide prevention. “FLO aims to
connect communities, families and organisations so that multiple
groups are contributing to building resilient and flourishing Pasifika
families at multiple levels across New Zealand in a coordinated way.”
Launched in March this year, FLO is empowering communities to
deliver their own solutions, funding 17 different Pasifika groups to
address suicide from within their own communities, and funding
quality research to build knowledge on ‘“what works’” for Pasifika.
Le Va Chief Executive Dr Monique Faleafa says that Pacific
communities are seeking solutions to suicide with a sense of
urgency. “In general, Kiwis are not inclined to talk about suicide or
how we are feeling, and that impacts on our ability to reach out
for help. For Pacific communities, this silence can be sometimes be
compounded if we perceive suicide as a tapu issue from cultural
and spiritual perspectives.”
The non-government organisation Le Va, which focuses on holistic
“In order to come up with effective solutions, we need to
understand suicide, and in order to understand suicide and suicide
prevention, we need to first talk about it.”. Dr Faleafa is adamant
Pacific Peoples Health 9
that it’s a myth that ‘talking about suicide increases the risk’, and in
fact, talking about it increases help-seeking behaviour. Le Va works
alongside creative artists, churches, media and, clergy, and has
ambassadors in various Pacific communities, to ensure messages
are conveyed in an appropriate way.
“There are appropriate and safe ways of talking about suicide and
suicide prevention. We have consulted our Pacific communities
throughout the country, through 15 fono and over 400 attendees
and our results show that the readiness to talk is there, and with
the right resources, appropriate education, and taking collective
responsibility, we can all play a role to bring change.”
Le Va promotes these Top 5 Tactics as protective factors for and
enhancing resiliency for Pasifika people. Le Va is developing
resources and education tool kits for Pasifika communities.
1. Good communication
4. Strengthen family
Communication is the heartbeat to nurturing
healthy family relationships.
Find ways to have open, meaningful, supportive, nonjudgmental conversations within your family. This will provide
a safe space for children to reveal what stressors and pressures
they have - such as peer pressure or bullying.
Research shows the first three years of a child’s
development is critical to his or her wellbeing.
What will truly help children thrive?
Along with food, warmth, shelter and clothing: feeling safe and
secure; love and hugs; praise; smiles; positive encouragement;
the first three
of athings.
heard; time
& attention;
development is critical to his or her wellbeing.
be life changing for all
will trulyprogrammes
help childrencan
experiences from all the
Along with food, warmth, shelter and clothing: feeling safe and
secure; love
praise; smiles; positive encouragement;
feeling heard; time & attention; learning new things.
MYTH - Talking about
suicide increases the risk
It’s ok to talk. If we do it the right
way, it can actually reduce risk.
Talk means less stigma. It
encourages us to seek help.
2. Strong cultural identity
5. Connect with others
Use your culture
don’t lose your culture.
Pull together this will
Connect with your
make us stronger.
emotions through
For young Pacific people in
New Zealand, the stronger their
cultural identity, the stronger
their mental wellbeing.
What is culture?
It includes our own internal library
of diverse experiences and stories.
Our own library, and that of our
family. We must embrace and
strengthen our cultural identity
in order to strengthen wellbeing
and have a happy life.
3. Find hope and courage
through spirituality
Spirituality is a personal
journey of transformation,
hope and courage.
Church elders and spiritual
leaders are well placed to play
an important role in preventing
Pacific suicide. They can provide
support, information and create
new initiatives within the church.
10 Pacific Peoples Health
Be social.
It takes a village to raise a child.
Healthy relationships
are vital for
and those
diverseof purpose.
wellbeing and
help us during tough
Connect withIt’syour
okay to
ask it
forforward – share a smile, a hug, hang out
through MUSIC,
ART, and
Just do it if you need to.
with diverse EXPERIENCES
Pay it forward – share a smile, a
hug, hang out.
Find a purpose through the
contributions you can make
and seek opportunities for
growth – personally, professionally,
a sense of
and socially.
Find a purpose through the contributions you can make an
opportunities for growth – personally, professionally, and
If you or someone else is feeling lost, lonely, whakapouri or
just wanting to talk, there are lots of people who can help:
Le Va
Lifeline Aotearoa
0800 543 354
Youthline – 0800 376 633
Suicide Prevention Helpline