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Lifeline Aotearoa fighting for survival

30 June 2016

Lifeline Aotearoa fighting for survival

Lifeline Aotearoa today announced it only has enough money to run for one more year.

By 30 June 2017, all available sustainability reserves and funds from a new mortgage on its Auckland property will be exhausted. It has restructured and is appealing for public support in an effort to keep offering its critical services to Kiwis in crisis.

Lifeline Aotearoa has operated consistently in New Zealand since 1964. It has become an iconic and trusted service providing 24/7 helplines and low-cost counselling to people in crisis. It is staffed by a mix of paid clinical experts and volunteers, all of whom have undergone extensive training.

Lifeline helplines answer up to 15,000 calls per month on a raft of issues including loneliness, family violence, financial concerns, homelessness, bullying and relationship issues, mental health and suicidal thoughts.

While there are numerous other helplines, none have the expertise of Lifeline in regard to suicide, crisis, peer-support and other counselling.

It is also the country’s most significant specialist provider of suicide intervention and training and, as such, is on the frontline of suicide prevention in New Zealand.

Despite the life enhancing, and potentially life saving, service it undertakes, and unlike similar Lifeline organisations around the world, Lifeline Aotearoa does not receive any Government funding for its 24/7 helplines.

It’s current financial position is the result of the loss of contracts to the Government’s new Telehealth Service, which has impacted on the organisation’s ability to fund its 24/7 helplines.

Lifeline Aotearoa Board Chair Ben Palmer says appeals to Government for funding assistance were rejected.

“We made the tough decision to cut a number of positions, including many of the management team, and our CEO will now work part time. Critically, we have ensured Lifeline can continue to operate its 24/7 crisis lines staffed by professionals and highly trained volunteers.

“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.”

Mr Palmer says with the well documented crisis in mental health and the New Zealand suicide rate reaching epidemic proportions, the Lifeline service has never been more critical.

“564 Kiwis died by suicide last year, the highest number on record and nearly double the annual road toll, which stood at 321. For young New Zealanders, particularly Maori, suicide is the leading cause of death.

“Sadly, it’s estimated for every person who commits suicide 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 6 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?"

Mr Palmer says suicide and attempted suicide represent a significant social and economic burden in New Zealand.

“Every call Lifeline answers lessens that burden and decreases the demand on other services like Police and Emergency Departments, not to mention the ACC costs associated with suicide attempts.

“We are in no doubt Lifeline is far too important to New Zealanders in crisis to simply disappear. We are New Zealanders’ lifeline,” says Mr Palmer.

Anyone who would like to support Lifeline can go to www.lifeline.org.nz to make a donation.




30 June 2016

1. Lifeline was established in Christchurch in 1964 as New Zealand’s first confidential community helpline service. It has now served Kiwis in crisis for 52 years.

2. Up until now, it has operated branches around New Zealand. It’s 24/7 helplines are predominantly staffed by volunteers who have undergone extensive training and professional counsellors.

3. Not-for- Profit Lifeline Aotearoa is part of the international grouping of Lifelines, which operate in Australia, Canada, the United States and England. Lifeline Aotearoa is the only one of these organisations that does not receive direct Government funding.

4. Lifeline Aotearoa comprises two distinct activity streams:

a. Contracts activity – running contracts for MSD, MOH and DHB’s (which are currently in place).

b. Free 24/7 volunteer-based helplines – comprising 0800 Lifeline, 0508 Tautoko (specialised suicide crisis line) and 0800 Kidsline (for those aged under 18).

5. How the activity streams work together:

a. The infrastructure required to operate Lifeline Aotearoa has, until now, been funded with revenue from the contracts activity. Included in the infrastructure is the technology platforms used to communicate with callers, Lifeline’s premises, quality control procedures (including clinical safety and training), professional counsellors, management and support staff.

b. This infrastructure supports the free 24/7 helplines. The helplines require this support as they are not, and have never been, funded in any way other than through donations from individuals and grants from granting bodies.

6. Lifeline receives approximately one million contacts to its services over any 12-month period including calls to its helplines, face-to- face counseling, training, community and school presentations, and inquiries via web, email, text.

7. Its helplines receive up to 15,000 calls per month from Kiwis in crisis – a significant proportion of whom are the most vulnerable people in the community including children, elderly, Maori, Pasifika, LGBTQIA and new migrants. 68% of Lifeline callers are male, 32% are female, 7% are under 20 years. The bulk of calls are from those aged 20-70.

8. Lifeline is the only specialised provider for people at risk of suicide, and is the only New Zealand provider of world-leading suicide prevention and education programmes.

9. Across its helplines, Lifeline receives approximately 7,500 calls per month from people who are at risk of suicide, serious self-harm or harm to others and who are in need of imminent help.  These callers are supported by experienced helpline counsellors trained in suicide intervention.

10. 25% of callers to Lifeline’s Suicide Crisis line (0508 Tautoko) identify as Maori and 24% are aged between 16-24, which correlates with the groups most vulnerable to suicide in New Zealand.

11. The anonymous, confidential nature of Lifeline’s helplines appeals to all callers and breaks down barriers to help seeking.

12. While New Zealand has numerous other helplines focused on mental health, these lines generally don’t specialise in supporting people at risk of suicide. Despite popular misconception, statistics show the majority of New Zealanders who take their own lives are in stable employment, have no previous history of mental health issues and do not identify as depressed. They wouldn’t think to call mental health services. This makes Lifeline critical.

13. In acknowledgement of Lifeline’s expertise in crisis counselling and suicide prevention, many social, cultural and health organisations (including primary health providers and DHBs) refer people to Lifeline. It also the primary organisation consistently referenced by media as the place to seek help. Multiple Government websites, universities, secondary schools also list Lifeline.

14. Lifeline’s current funding crisis started over a year ago with a change in Government policy, which saw the amalgamation of two significant Lifeline contracts with a new MoH initiative - the formation of the national Telehealth service. The formation of Telehealth resulted in Lifeline losing these two significant contracts, which had, up till that time, been significant contributors to the funding of Lifeline’s infrastructure.

15. At that time, Lifeline restructured, reducing its staff primarily related to
these contracts by 21. It also made an approach to Government for support, which was not successful.

16. Lifeline also embarked on major initiatives to replace the lost contract income through new opportunities, to enable the continued funding of its core infrastructure.

17. In anticipation of new support, the Board continued to fund the core infrastructure from cash reserves built up over many years. It felt it was essential that this infrastructure be maintained whilst new funding was sought.

18. Unfortunately to date, the quest for new funding has not been successful. Whilst many organisations, private and government, acknowledge a need within their communities, none have been prepared to support Lifeline.

19. With cash reserves close to extinguished by May 2016, Lifeline made a second approach to Government for support. Again this was not successful, clearly Lifeline’s 24/7 crisis helplines are not seen as a priority.

20. As a consequence, the Lifeline Board made the decision to reduce, for a second time, its organisational size. As such, this month 14 positions have been made redundant, impacting 18 people, and the CEO is now working on a part-time basis. It is also closing all but three branches, those being Auckland, Christchurch and Waikato.

21. To fund this “restructured Lifeline”, the trustees of a support trust have committed all of that trust’s cash reserves. They have also undertaken to seek a $1million mortgage against the Lifeline building in Auckland, a mortgage that will eventually have to be repaid.

22. Lifeline has determined that an effective and safe 24/7 service, capable of handling the 11,000 to 15,000 calls per month will cost $3 million for 2017. With the restructure, and cost savings currently being worked on, the annual cost beyond 2017 will be $2.5 million.

23. With this re-organisation, funding and public support, Lifeline is confident it is able to continue to operate until 30 June 2017. Beyond that date, operations will only continue with the goodwill and generosity of New Zealanders.


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