Government Rejects Funding Plea of NZ Suicide Prevention Hotline

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A crisis counselling helpline will shut down unless the Government steps in with funding.

Lifeline Aotearoa says it only has enough money to run for one more year, as its appeals to the Government for help have been rejected. It was asking the public for donations.

The service provides free 24-hour mental health assistance for issues such as bullying, depression, suicidal thoughts and family violence, answering up to 15,000 calls a month.

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Pressure on Lifeline’s budget was the result of the loss of contracts to the Government’s Telehealth Service last year.

Lifeline Aotearoa Board Chair Ben Palmer says staffing has been cut, including a shift for managers and the CEO to work part-time, to ensure Lifeline continued to operate around the clock.

“Unfortunately these changes only buy Lifeline another year. In that time the Board will do whatever it can to try and secure the funds Lifeline requires annually to remain open, including launching further public support campaigns.”

Palmer said with the crisis in mental health and the suicide rate reaching epidemic proportions, the Lifeline service has never been more critical.

“Sadly, it’s estimated for every person who commits suicide [there are] 40-100 people attempt it.

“It’s a shame the Government places little priority on people in crisis. This is starkly highlighted by the $600 million it has allocated to bringing down the road toll (an additional $360 million over six years).

“Interestingly the Government is prepared to invest $666,667 per person saved from road death or serious injury – 900 people – over 10 years. In that time, based on current numbers, 5,640 Kiwis may die through suicide. How much additional money is the Government prepared to invest for them?”

The Green Party have urged the Health Minister needed to undertake an urgent and wide-reaching review of mental health services.

“A strained mental health system has already been palming people off onto these 0800 numbers, and if Lifeline services go under, then New Zealanders will have lost a significant safety net,”  said Green Party health spokesperson Kevin Hague.

“If you imagine a piece of fabric being stretched and stretched and stretched, becoming frayed and threadbare, there are gaps appearing now where people are falling through.”

Labour’s health spokesperson Annette King said the situation highlighted the “chronic underfunding” of the sector.

“We know other mental health and addiction services are also feeling the pinch, having to compete for an ever-decreasing funding pool as cuts to the health budget take effect,” she said.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman was unavailable for comment.

Article | Roseanna Price for Stuff.co.nz

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