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It’s a Wonderful Lifeline: an SOS call for a genuinely life-saving service

The suicide helpline Lifeline Aotearoa has been providing essential support to New Zealanders in desperate need since 1964, but a catastrophic funding loss means the service is set to close in 2017. That would be a disaster, says Kristina Hard – one we can’t allow to happen, .

In the early hours of the morning, a young woman sits in her car on the side of an empty road and cries. She feels like she’s at the end of the line, incapable of moving forwards. She’s not sure if she’s going to wake up tomorrow, because she’s contemplating suicide. But she does wake up the next day, and the next, and the next, because in her time of need she was able to turn to Lifeline. The only specialised service provider for people at risk of suicide, the helpline receives up to 15,000 calls per month from Kiwis. The anonymous and confidential nature of Lifeline allows callers to express their darkest thoughts and fears, without judgement and with the prospect of pathways to solutions. Lifeline is in the business of hope, but on June 30, 2017 that hope is set to run out.

Unlike Australian, English, American and Canadian Lifelines, Lifeline Aotearoa doesn’t receive any funding from the government for its 24/7 service. Now, due to its precarious financial position – caused in large part by the loss of contracts to the Government’s new Telehealth Service – operations will only continue after the end of June with the goodwill and generosity of New Zealanders.

If Lifeline closes there’s little doubt that there will be collateral damage. Desperate people in need of Lifeline will slip through the cracks. Do you want to live in a country where suicide prevention isn’t funded? How long will our society continue to take an ‘ambulance at the bottom of the cliff’ approach to mental health? If Lifeline disappears which one of your friends, which member of your family could disappear with it?

You might accuse me of being overly dramatic, but the suicide statistics don’t lie – and they should trouble everyone. They show that 579 people died by suicide in the year to June 2016, the highest suicide numbers since figures were first published in 2007-2008. “The rate of people taking their own lives is remaining consistent, and unacceptably high”, says Judge Deborah Marshall, the chief coroner. Lifeline is saturated with need but the 24/7 crisis helpline is clearly not seen as a priority, which quite honestly beggars belief.

Since the announcement of its threatened demise, Lifeline has been on a quest for support from private organisations, but so far none have been prepared to help. It seems no one wants to put up the money to save lives. Lifeline has many generous funders and sponsors – among them Canon, Simpson Grierson, Soar, Nestle, New Zealand Couriers and The Giving Tree – but unfortunately they are not enough to rescue the charity. Donations of $3 million in the next year and $2.5 million the following years are needed or the phones will go dead.

The end of Lifeline is a horrifying prospect. There’s a ‘funds run out’ countdown on the Lifeline website and it truly is a ticking time bomb: as I write there are 233 days, 8 hours, 16 minutes and 10 seconds until the end. 233 days, 8 hours, 16 minutes and 10 seconds until our suicide rates rise further. A statement released by Lifeline in September announced that since the charity’s launch of their Help Keep Lifeline Alive campaign “there has been a 48 per cent increase in calls relating to suicide and self-harm alone.” CEO Jo Denvir says “it’s unthinkable that we may be forced to turn off our 24/7 phone lines next June. We are one of the country’s most recognised and trusted organisations providing immediate support to the emotional and mental wellbeing of every caller who reaches out to us for help.”

Lifeline Aotearoa has operated consistently in New Zealand since 1964. But on June 30, 2017 the helpline will disappear and hundreds upon hundreds of distress calls will go out into the void. No one will be on the other end of the line to possibly save the life of your daughter, your son, your sister, your brother – or a cherished member of someone else’s family. The lives of the most beloved people in our lives could hang in the balance. If Lifeline’s phones are dead, who will save our souls?

Help keep Lifeline alive. Donate now.

Where to get help:

• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7) (run by Lifeline)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7) (run by Lifeline)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Samaritans 0800 726 666
• If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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