As I drove past the church steps on the way home from work this week and saw the 606 empty pairs of shoes representing the people who during 2016-17 had taken their own lives in New Zealand I felt a deep sadness, each pair of shoes represents not only a precious life but many more lives affected by their loss.
Every year approximately 500 people in New Zealand take their own lives 
There were 7267 intentional self-harm hospitalisations in New Zealand in 2013
New Zealand has the highest rate of teen suicide in the developed world 
New Zealand continuously ranked among the worst in the world for our levels of teen suicide.
In a normal week two teenagers or two children kill themselves, Youthline director Stephen Bell says. About 20 young people will be hospitalised for self-harm each week, he estimated.
I felt it fitting that this week – ‘World Suicide Awareness Week’ I sat down and talked openly with an incredibly brave and beautiful young girl, Angelique and her loving mum Stacey.
I met Stacey and her daughter Angelique early this year after I put out a photography model call. When we met we began talking, the subject moved to Angelique’s journey through self-harm, depression and teenage pregnancy. Stacey and Angelique spoke to me of wanting to share their experiences as a way to bring awareness and gave me the privilege of interviewing and photographing them.
This is their story.
Angelique is 36 weeks pregnant. She is a beautiful girl with soulful eyes and maturity beyond her 15yrs.
I sit down with Angelique and her mum Stacey this morning at their home in Nelson and wonder how on earth I am going to start talking about such a sensitive and often very closed issue, but the warmth and openness of Stacey and her daughter quickly make me feel at ease.
I asked Angelique to tell me when it all began, to start at the beginning.
Year 8 a young Angelique began experiencing the first stages of depression, she said she didn’t know what was happening and didn’t know how cope with it. She started to self-harm as a way to deal with what was going on. Angelique tells me that she regrets it a lot, and wishes that she could take it back. She is very self-conscious of the scarring.
“people stare at me and give me dirty looks when I walk by, I try not let it stop me from wearing what I want but it is hard sometimes” says Angelique.
As the years went on the self-harming gradually got worse.
Her mum Stacey tells me “I didn’t know what to do because I had not experienced any self-harming behaviour before, I talked to health professionals, and got some advice but it didn’t help because Angelique still had depression, and I was extremely stressed about this”,
Things started to really get worse for her when she was in year 9, her first year of college at age 13.
“A lot of home stuff was going on and I guess I could say I was getting bullied”
Angelique was actually getting terribly bullied online and in person.
She told me that she’s the type of person who would block it out.
Angelique was so closed off, and didn’t really open up says her mum who noticed something was wrong with her daughter. Her moods were erratic, she was not wanting to go to school and would come up with lots of excuses’ which didn’t make sense so she could stay home.
Angelique didn’t notice herself how bad things were getting but her mum did, she had lost her appetite and a lot of weight.
Stacey worried about her daughter and took her to their GP who suggested anti-depressants and counselling, but Angelique was not ready.
The bullying continued, and Angelique started isolating herself.
Mum talked to the school, googled and saw a counsellor trying to find answers as to what could help her daughter.
“We would be together as a family and text messages would come through on her phone and her whole demeanour would change, I tried to take her phone off her, but that didn’t help”
There were meetings with the school counsellor and mediation with the people who were bullying Angelique but it only made things worse, the bullies just thought it was a joke, they laughed and did not take it seriously.
Life was getting worse for Angelique, she was skipping school almost every day which lead her to be given red slips, green slips and lots of detentions. Angelique told me that she would be so anxious about going to school that she’d end up in the sick bay vomiting rather than attending class anyway.
Angelique feels that the deans didn’t handle the situation in the right way and It made her not want to come to school even more. “I’d get to school in the morning and go straight to their office where they would then check my phone to see if there were any messages from the bully, if there were they would take my phone from me for the whole day.” she felt like she was the one being blamed for the bullying.
Tired of no changes Stacey moved her daughter to another school and was immediately impressed with the new school and the way in which they embraced Angelique.
Angelique tells me after she moved schools she felt more comfortable attending class and actually stared to enjoy her time at school with different people but was still dealing with her mental health which had not gotten much better. she said that the bullying continued, but only on social media. She started to hang out with a new group of friends who were nice and more mature.
“A bit after that I started drinking”
Mum said she was pretty good though and stuck to her curfew.
Her drinking started to become another pain release, and it eventually became her weekend like a lot of other teenagers her age.
One night Angelique tried to take her own life.
“I can’t remember if someone said something, it was more just this moment, and headspace like I can’t take it anymore. I just grabbed whatever pills I could find, I didn’t care anymore, it was an in the moment thing”
Mum found out about half an hour later and took her daughter to the hospital. She stayed in the hospital hooked up to monitors vomiting. During the night Child and Adolescent Mental Health Support Services came up to see her.
“I was hooked up to lots of monitors to check everything was okay, I was up that whole night. I was in a lot of pain and could not stop vomiting”
Angelique was eventually discharged. The following day she tried to go on as normal, but people found out – she doesn’t know how, they said she was attention seeking and that if she was going to do that, to do it properly. “It made me feel so much worse, I thought it would’ve been better if I had just gone”
After the suicide attempt Angelique saw a counsellor but she didn’t connect so stopped going.
The bullying calmed down as she had moved schools and blocked the bullies on every form of social media as they would try to get in contact with her in any way possible.
In the 2017 New Year she started a new relationship with a guy two years older than her. Not long after they had started seeing each other Angelique became pregnant.
“We had this feeling I was pregnant, he paid for a test. I said to him even if I am there are options. When we got home I took the test and it came up positive. My first word was fuck, but I didn’t have any emotions, I was normal. He was the same, I was oh, okay. It was a really weird, unreal feeling.”
I asked Angelique if she was on birth control, she said she had seen the doctor a month earlier and had started a new anti-depressant. Rather than starting birth control pills at the same time, the doctor had said to come back a month later as if there was anything wrong with either medication they wanted to know which one it was. “so that’s how that [pregnancy] happened” she says.
Straight away Angelique told her mum.
Stacey tells me “my first thought was that it was a joke, that they’d drawn a second line on the test, I tried to rub it out.”
“Well it’s alright, I’d been praying since Angelique became unwell that something would happen to break her out of the depression. I wasn’t upset about the pregnancy I felt there is a reason for this, and I would support any choice my daughter made, I wasn’t upset but I was still scared.”
Angelique decided to keep the baby and after a few months she shared the news with their family, friends and school.
The college was pretty good about it, they were understanding and let Angelique come to classes when she could, they told her about the young parent’s school.
Almost nobody judged Angelique, everyone was so good. The pregnancy has brought everyone together and given the family hope.
Stacey tells me “the baby is a wee miracle”
But things have not been smooth sailing through Angelique’s pregnancy. At about six months pregnant she started to go down hill again, both her and her partner got stressed and overwhelmed which is understandable in their situation. The prospect of becoming parents at such a young age would scare anyone regardless of mental health issues.
“I was really downhill I didn’t want to be here anymore, I chose not to take medication as the risk it might have to the baby.”
Angelique was admitted to the Mental Health Unit under 24hr supervision, but the unit is not set up in Nelson for teenagers and she had to share a bathroom with the adult patients which she didn’t feel comfortable doing. Although the staff were very nice it was an isolating time, for safety reasons Angelique was in her room all day, she couldn’t go out in the main area with the adult patients.
There was talk of sending her to the specialist Christchurch Teenage Mental Health Unit, but as she was seven months pregnant she didn’t feel comfortable going so far from home.
Angelique said she had lots of visitors, family came every day and her boyfriend. “I was okay when I had visitors but basically sat in the room and looked at the wall, very lonely when they had gone, I had to fake to get out”
Even though she felt the same, Angelique had to pretend she was okay so she could go home. After leaving the unit, she went with her mum to visit her family in Dunedin which helped, being around loved ones gaining support and talking was what she needed.
Angelique tells me apart from her family, her boyfriend the baby’s father has been her biggest support.
After she became pregnant she stopped self-harming, drinking and smoking “it was really hard for me to quit smoking just like that but It was my goal to get there, It wasn’t just about me anymore” she says.
Angelique has really bonded with her unborn baby boy and is in a good head space at this moment In time.
Angelique tells me that this isn’t her whole story, that she has chosen parts of it in the hope that other people who may have experienced similar situations will gain some comfort knowing they are not the only ones going through this. She has never mentioned some of these experiences to anyone before and feels that this has been a healing process enabling her to move on and focus on the next step of her journey.
I ask her what advice she would give to another person in her situation:
Even though it can be hard to block the person bullying you on social media – especially if it is someone you have been very close to, it is the best option and will save you a lot of stress.
If you are in any of the same classes, ask to be moved.
Seeing a counsellor can sound scary, but if you give it a go, it might really help you, it’s not for everyone but it’s worth trying. You might need to try a few different counsellors until you find the one that you connect best with.
If you do happen to be in this situation, don’t be scared it’s really not as bad as they make it sound. There are so many support places.
It’s not as bad as what TV shows make it out to be.
If you don’t have a supportive family, there’s always people, such as young parents school and Family Start. People have surprisingly been really happy for me.
Stacey supports her daughter in sharing her story and hopes that it will bring more awareness to an issue which is tragically such a huge problem in New Zealand.
WHERE TO GET HELP
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906 (Palmerston North and Levin)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (available 24/7)
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.