Calls and texts to helpline Lifeline Aotearoa have spiked up to 88% compared to 2019 and show little sign of slowing, even when lockdown levels drop. Lifeline recorded its highest ever text day on Friday 10th of September, World Suicide Prevention Day.
Lifeline operations manager Helena de Fontenay says the increase in calls shows New Zealanders are actively seeking mental health support through conversations, “which is a good thing”. She adds, however, that the stress of COVID-19 is showing up in more complex calls involving suicidal thoughts, self-harm and risk to others.
“We want people to call us to talk about what is going through their minds. We want to hear those complex calls and difficult thoughts, because we can help,” says Helena. “Mental Health Awareness Week’s theme this year is ‘Take Time to Kōrero,’ and that is exactly what we want people to do when they call Lifeline. It’s why we exist for anyone, anytime, anywhere in New Zealand – for someone to Kōrero with when there might not be anyone to talk to.”
To meet the increased need for connection, Lifeline is requesting urgent funds to train more permanent staff and volunteers. During Lockdown in 2021 Lifeline received more than 10,000 texts and calls a week, up almost 40% compared to 2020’s Alert Level 4 lockdown. This compares to an average of just under 6,000 people contacting us per month in 2019 pre-COVID-19.
‘‘Despite the massive increase in demand for our services, Lifeline does not receive any government funding, relying on donations to provide our essential support.
“We are all trying to make it reasonable and acceptable to seek support for the worries and stress affecting our daily lives, but we must ensure that when people take time to kōrero, we have the resources and choice of services necessary to help people be safe – and that means funding for more counsellors.
Helena says the first week of the current lockdown saw Lifeline receive about 8,500 calls and texts, which rose to 8,700 in week two, 10,900 in week three, 11,167 in week four, and 10,713 in week five (when most of New Zealand was in Alert Level 2.) Many of these callers are first-time callers reaching out with a range of issues, particularly relating to isolation and loneliness.
“We all need to be working together to address New Zealand’s mental health issues. That includes supporting our frontline counsellors and volunteers. At Lifeline, we need funding to train more people, to take more calls and save more lives. If you have ever known anyone who has struggled with mental wellbeing, this is the time to give on their behalf because the $50 you give may literally save the life of someone in your community.”
To donate to Lifeline visit: https://www.lifeline.org.nz/donate
Five key strategies to kōrero
It can be daunting to speak to someone who is having a hard time and struggling with really challenging, triggering or suicidal thoughts. We recommend some key steps to connect and support them.
Connect and build rapport
- Talk with them and let them know that you are there.
- Listen without judgment.
- Take them seriously.
Try to be calm and focus on your connection with them
- Talking about suicide does not put the idea in their head.
- Suicidal thoughts can be overwhelming and scary – be gentle and compassionate to them and yourself.
- Reach out to others if you need support, a friend or family member.
- Call Lifeline (0800 543 354) or Tautoko (0508 828 865). They can support you while you are talking with them.
- You do not need to be alone in supporting someone.
Think about what supports they might need
- Help them to find and access support from others, including whānau, community or cultural leaders, or support organisations and professionals.
- Do not agree to keep secrets.
- Stay with them if you are with them in person or stay on the phone with them until help arrives or someone can stay with them.
Decide next steps
- Support them to access professional help, e.g., counselling or a doctor.
- Connect with a mental health crisis team.
- In an emergency call 111.
Look after yourself
- Supporting someone who is feeling suicidal can be stressful, ensure you have someone you can debrief with.
- Lifeline (0800 543 354) and Tautoko are great services to help you manage those feelings.