News : Break the Silence: Experts Call for Single National Crisis Helpline
Auckland, New Zealand, Aug 9, 2017 -- If you're feeling suicidal, who would you call?
Lifeline? Healthline? Youthline? How about the Depression Crisis Line or the Suicide Crisis Helpline?
New Zealand has about a dozen different depression, anxiety or suicide-related helplines.
Two expert psychiatrists - with more than 100 years' experience between them - want New Zealand to take a radical step and close all but one.
They want one national crisis line to be advertised with as much clout as 111.
"When you've got a fire or had a car accident you know you dial 111. When you're going to kill yourself, who do you call?" asked retired psychiatrist James Reardon.
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"Eleven different numbers means confusion. They should all be removed because it's done nothing but create uncertainty and frustration," he said.
In an exclusive interview with the Herald this week, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said having "everything funnelled into one place is a good idea".
"Off the top of my head it sounds like a good idea. There might be experts who come up with some other reason as to why it might not be a good idea, but intuitively it sounds like a good idea," Coleman said.
For the past five weeks the Herald has run a special series on youth suicide called Break the Silence which has analysed why we have the highest teen suicide rate in the developed world. This week we focus on solutions to reduce that rate.
Many of New Zealand's suicide-related helplines are crying out for more funding as they struggle to withstand growing demand.
The 0800 What's Up number, run by Barnardos for children up to the age of 18, reported more than 11,850 unanswered calls over the past year.
It only has enough funding to keep the call centre open between 1pm and 10pm and is currently crowdfunding to try to extend the service for another hour each night through a campaign called Keep Them Talking.
Samaritans says it's struggling financially, and in March, Lifeline lost an $800,000 suicide prevention training contract with the Ministry of Health which was a "huge blow" to the organisation.
Lifeline executive director Glenda Schnell agreed 11 helplines was too many for New Zealand, but warned against narrowing it down to just one.
"I get that having a 111 number in terms of suicide crisis is of value, but I also value choice," she said. "A few numbers would give people choice around who they might want to trust."
However, Emeritus Professor John Werry, formerly with the University of Auckland child and youth psychiatry department, backed Reardon's controversial proposal.
"Of course I agree with that," Werry, who worked as a psychiatrist in New Zealand and internationally for 57 years, said.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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