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April 30, 2018 | by  | in Features |
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There is a Better World (There Must Be)

CW: self-harm and suicide

Kit Taylor loved The Simpsons, rats, Nick Cave, Victoria Bitters, a strong skullet (his haircut of choice: a shaved head with an isolated mullet flowing out the back). He loved his friends, deeply. He was a talented singer and songwriter, who prior to his death had released his first EP Prayers. He was also forging a path as a hand poke tattoo artist, and can be seen in an episode of the VICE show Needles & Pins with Grace Neutral. In 2017 he contributed to Salient with a review of Lorde’s Melodrama, and an interview on Salient FM about music and gender, with Kit playing some songs live-to-air. While Kit had lived the last few years of his life as a non-binary individual, since moving to Wellington from Auckland he had recently become more open in identifying as a transgender man, and wore a chest binder in the year before his passing. When he moved to Wellington he would often be found at the inner city flat of our mutual friend, Cole, that she shared with her then-partner Calse, and their friend Damon. Kit began a relationship with Damon in early 2017.  

I first met Kit online in 2011 after we had both attended an Auckland chapter of SlutWalk. I posted a photo of the denim jacket I had worn that day, with a hastily scrawled “NO MEANS NO”, on my Tumblr; Kit reblogged it saying, “I saw this girl at the walk today and wanted to ask her out so bad!” We kept in touch online and ran into each other at parties, and though we didn’t see each other in person a lot, that was okay, because we were both introverted and anxious and didn’t have to make excuses. We could still maintain a friendship through chat windows. We received our diagnoses of borderline personality disorder around the same time, and bonded further over that unique safety in being able to talk to someone openly, without judgement, to someone who was just as crazy as you. Kit attended my first and only show I performed under a former musical alias at my shitty Kingsland flat as part of a fundraiser for dolphins; after I played he asked his partner at the time for all the money they had on them for me to pose in a photo with, so I would look successful. Four years later, after we had both moved to Wellington, I would attend Kit’s last ever show, a gig organized as part of the Vic UFO Women’s Week that raised over $1000 for Shakti Women’s Refuge. I told him how amazing his set was and his face lit up with the biggest grin I had ever seen, that pure hit of sweet sincere validation from one Borderline to another. We shared a spliff in a parked car and talked about how shit everything felt, but at least we were here. And then less than a week later he was gone.

On Monday 7th August, after growing increasingly unstable and upset, Kit stopped himself from a suicide attempt last minute. Cole called Te Haika, who advised Kit to control his breathing and contact his GP when possible. “It was basically go and do some breathing exercises, have a cig and a cup of tea,” Cole told me. On Tuesday the decision was made by Kit’s friends to take him into the hospital to meet with CATT (Crisis Assessment and Treatment team) and discuss how to proceed to ensure his safety. CATT broached the subject of Kit staying with Cole, Calse, and Damon, which all three felt was unsafe due to their full-time study and work schedules. They felt they would be unable to provide Kit with the time and care necessary while he was so at risk, and were told it was either that or respite, which Cole felt was an ultimatum. “They didn’t give us any advice, they just said we had to pick one now.”

It was arranged for Kit to stay at a local respite facility, with plans made for him to fly up to Auckland the coming Saturday to stay with his mother until something more concrete could be put in place. Kit was distraught at the idea of returning to Auckland, a source of a lot of his trauma, but he understood there was no other option and was happy for Cole and Calse to take him to the airport that weekend. The last time they would see Kit would be Thursday; exhausted, he lay in Cole’s arms at respite and apologized for what he was putting her through. Cole believes Kit took his life not long after they left respite that evening. Because respite facilities do not provide frequent check-ins on residents, his body was not found until the morning of Friday 11th.

On the Saturday morning, Cole and Calse were preparing to leave to pick up Kit from the respite and take him to the airport. They had not heard from Kit since leaving respite on Thursday evening, and attempts at calling his phone from Friday onward went through to answering machine. With no available contact number for the respite, she called the Te Haika hotline seeking a number for the facility, who after several holds and transfers said they were unable to disclose that information, but would pass on her call to Kit’s listed next of kin. Assuming she would be informed if something was wrong, Cole jumped in the shower while she waited for an update. The phone rang as she climbed out — it was Kit’s mother telling her Kit was dead.

“I was still in the towel, and I ran into [my friend’s] arms, I was all wet, and I just cried,” she said. At this stage Kit’s death had been known to Te Haika for over 24 hours, and he had been dead for at least 32. Neither Cole, Calse, or Damon received any contact from Te Haika or respite in this time or after.

We drove up to Auckland from Wellington on Saturday 19th for the funeral. I have agoraphobia and didn’t last 24 hours in Auckland before I had to get out; no flights were available and I booked the first 11 hour bus home, set with a couple of Zopiclone my GP had given me. I felt horrible missing the funeral, but I knew Kit wouldn’t mind, he always understood. I sent him a message on Facebook apologizing. I’ve sent him a lot of messages since then.

Police made their first contact the week following Kit’s death in a call requesting Cole and Damon come in to give interviews to assist with the coroner’s statement, with follow up emails in September and October. Following Kit’s death, Damon had moved in with his father in his hometown, and it wasn’t until November 7th that he and Cole found the time and energy to give their statements to police. If the coroner decided Kit’s death was preventable, a case against the services involved would be viable. The statements from Te Haika, CATT, and respite would hold huge influence over the final outcome of the coroner’s statement. Cole does not know to what lengths they divulged their involvement. While police offered advice on how to follow through with legal action, including information regarding the Health and Disability Commission, at no point did they mention any time limit on the coroner’s inquest, only that its finalization and the return of Kit’s belongings at his time of death would signify the case’s closure. Between grieving her close friend and a full-time study and work schedule, when Cole felt confident in considering pursuing further legal action, the case had already been closed. At present time Cole is unsure if there is still an opportunity to seek some kind of accountability from Te Haika, or if she even has the resources to do so, adding she would not want to overstep any boundaries with or cause upset for Kit’s family.

So many questions run through my mind over and over when I think about Kit’s passing. If Kit required 24/7 watch, why did Te Haika then suggest respite, where residents are not regularly monitored? Inpatient psychiatric wards are specifically designed to prevent suicide attempts, i.e. no railings to attach roping or cord. Why did Te Haika not take his lengthy history of suicide attempts seriously? From my own experience I know Borderlines are heavily stigmatized, even by professionals, with acts of self-harm relegated as attention seeking. Why was there no communication from Te Haika with his close friends who were actively working with these services to get him care? I continue to watch my friends grieve and try to reconcile this series of events, while the people responsible for Kit’s death close their books, with no accountability or even an admittance of fault, having jotted Kit Taylor down as another unfortunate statistic. That statistic shouldn’t exist. Is it too much to ask for those under care in our mental health system to be kept alive by the people and facilities they are entrusted to?

New Zealand has the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world. In 2013 there were 2,866 hospitalisations of youth for intentional acts of self-harm. From July 1st 2014 to June 30th 2016, there were 238 suicides of New Zealanders between ages 12 and 24. Every 67 hours a young person commits suicide in New Zealand, and transgender youth are five times more at risk; in a 2012 survey of 8,500 transgender secondary school students, 40% reported depressive symptoms and instances of self-harm, and 1 in 5 trans students had attempted suicide in the past year. As for inpatient deaths, from 2001-2012 there were 30 reported suicides within New Zealand inpatient facilities; in 2014 there were six reported inpatient deaths, and two of people who were on approved leave from these clinics. As of December 2017, 11 of New Zealand’s 20 district health boards do not even require respite centres to record suicide attempts on their premises.

Cole and Damon are still finding it hard to talk about what happened last August, and this is their first time speaking of it outside of their tight-knit group of friends. “The last official interaction [that I had] of any kind was during a police statement I gave last year,” says Damon. “If they have made any effort to ensure this sort of thing doesn’t happen again, that’s really all I can ask. I’m trying to think of things to say about Kit, but all I can really think of at the moment is that I miss them.” I asked Cole what she wants to change in mental health treatment in New Zealand. “I think our government needs to be more aware of the actual situation around mental health at the moment, not even just with an increase in funding for more staff and facilities, but it needs to be more of a focus on education within the community.” When asked what she wishes Te Haika could have done at the time, she tried to start several sentences but cut off each one, and sighed. “I don’t even know. I wish they could have just looked after Kit and taken the situation more seriously.”

Kit Taylor was a fucking star. It feels weird to speak in the past tense, and it feels hollow to write these words for someone who can no longer read them. I wish I could tear out these pages, ball them up, pound them into the earth so you could hear them, even as a whisper, maybe, wherever you are. You are gone, and I am sick like you are sick. I wear your fur coat and feel strong, and safe. Are you safe now? We miss you so much.

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