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Youth website big success in suicide prevention

Oct 17th, 2008 | By | Category: Latest News, News

John Kirwan’s TV message brought depression out into the open for the 30-plus age group – but younger people needed the inspiration of Brooke Fraser, Scribe, P-Money and others to get them seeking help for mental illness.

With a website featuring celebrities and popular New Zealand musicians talking about their experiences with depression, the Ministry of Health/Lifeline initiative Lowdown has helped hundreds of troubled teens.

Website counsellors helped prevent 17 suicides in the site’s first three months after its launch in December last year.

In that time, the Auckland-based national team of counsellors had more than 3000 text and 2411 emailing counselling sessions.

Their action to call in emergency services for teens at high risk of suicide can be a journey of emotion for counsellors, says general manager of Lifeline, Anil Thapliyal.

“I know the value of a life and if we only ever saved the life of one person, the entire project would have been worth it,” he says.

In the year to June, 2009, the ministry is expected to spend $3.7 million on the national depression initiative, including the youth-focused Lowdown service.

The campaign to connect with young people via email and text messaging attracted more than 43,000 website hits and 23,000 text messages between December 2007 and February 2008, and continues to receive more than 400 text messages a day.

Lowdown team leader Daniel Maaka says it’s important that young people are treated differently from the older generation when it comes to depression.

He says teens tend to focus on the issue they are facing and put their emotion into the abuse, the loss of a friend or the breakdown of a relationship. Most don’t see the situation as a whole.

The older generation see the bigger picture, often realising they are suffering from depression and seeking out help and support.

The use of text and email enables the Lowdown team to reach the age group targeted in this campaign.

“The anonymity of it makes it easier for people to reach out,” Mr Maaka says.

Mr Thapliyal says the campaign had to be cool and “youth-centric”.

“We needed to communicate in their language with cell phones and the internet – it was quite an undertaking for the Ministry of Health and Lifeline.”

Celebrities have been a key contributor to the website’s success. “It’s important for the young people to have someone they can relate to, they hear from their role models and can connect with them,” says Mr Thapliyal.

The average age of people contacting the Lowdown team is 17, with the average age of texters 14 to 18 and emailers, 20-plus.

Seventy per cent of the young people seeking Lowdown’s help are female. The manager of Lowdown and National Depression Line, Dylan Norton, says this is relatively normal in mental health.

“Part of it is that men don’t talk about their feelings as much, the other part may be that there are fewer men in mental health.”

The John Kirwan campaign has successfully alerted adult men to the importance of seeking help. Gender rates of callers to the National Depression Line are much closer, at 60/40.

The ministry is likely to consider more promotion on the Lowdown site towards male users, Mr Norton says.

Lowdown statistics also show a large number of contacts from rural areas.

Mr Thapliyal says: “You’d think there would be high numbers from places like Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch but that’s not the case – we do have a lot of calls from these areas but more so from the rural areas.”

He suggests this could be a sign that support systems are not as widely available in rural areas.

“But, regardless of all the statistics, the fact is that someone is being helped right now.”

Lowdown offers a number of services from counselling and advice to treatment plans and referrals to GPs or mental health services.

PICTURE: Scribe talks about his experiences with depression on the youth-oriented website, Lowdown.

The lowdown on Lowdown

Website: Text free: 5626

Email: Login to the Websites ‘Chat section’ to email a team member

Counsellors’ available: Between 12pm-12am each day

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