Mental wellbeing in Aotearoa starts with strong social support in the community.

Patrick* called Lifeline many times, hanging up without saying a word. When he finally gathered the courage to speak, he told the counsellor through sobs that he was depressed and spending a lot of time in bed. Isolated and anxious, he was scared of life.

Patrick had begun to think he was better off dead. Fear that he would lose his sons, let his parents down or lose his job motivated him to call for help.

For nearly 60 years Lifeline has journeyed with New Zealanders through these kinds of moments of distress and fear. At Presbyterian Support Northern, this is our mission and our privilege: to provide Lifeline and be there for anyone, whenever someone needs us.

The Lifeline counsellor supported Patrick to appreciate that he was worthy of help and encouraged him to be kinder to himself. She helped him realise that it was normal to struggle sometimes, and that things always get better.

Patrick continued to call every day for around three months. His counsellor encouraged him to contact a local therapist to work through his anxiety. His decision to ask for help by calling and talking to someone wasn’t an easy one for Patrick, but it changed the path he was walking.

Whatever you’re going through and whatever the impact, you’re welcome to reach out to Lifeline’s caring team 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week. The helpline – 0800 54 33 54 – and textline – HELP (4357) – are free to use and offer anonymous and confidential support. Whatever the issue, it can help to talk or text with Lifeline. We’re committed to providing safe and effective services that support emotional and mental wellbeing.

“Thank you for the time you spent talking to me and all the support. You kept me on the phone and I felt heard,” said Patrick in his feedback. “The person I spoke to was empathetic and understanding. In fact, she saved my life.”

Across all Presbyterian Support’s services, we find that persistent hard times are affecting more and more of our clients, particularly their spiritual and mental wellbeing. In the last financial period alone, Lifeline received over 100,000 calls and 250,000 texts were sent and received. Across Aotearoa New Zealand, well over 10,000 clients met with our Family Works social workers and counsellors in the same period, a 44% increase from numbers the year before.

When asked what the top challenges were for their clients, all regional Family Works managers noted that stress and anxiety impacted clients’ mental health. The demand for our support services has not only increased, but it has also become more complex. This is due to the impacts of recent disasters and before that, lockdown conditions and the spread of COVID-19; and its subsequent impact on higher costs of living, food insecurity and people’s employment, housing and working conditions.

But despite this noted increase in demand for support, Family Works saw no increase in funding (and even cuts from some Government agency contracts), while Lifeline receives no Government funding at all. Lifeline can only continue helping New Zealanders survive through generous donations, bequests and incredible members of the public who fundraise on our behalf.

We worry about the growing mental health and wellbeing demands on New Zealanders because we know it correlates with New Zealand’s rates of child abuse, youth suicide, family and sexual violence statistics.

We developed a position statement on mental health because we see the positive difference we make in actively preventing mental health crises for many individuals. How? By identifying risk factors with our communities and then developing evidence-based programmes and services that support people to mitigate those risks.

Family Works provides a variety of programmes that make a difference for children, young people and their whānau: counselling and anxiety groups for children and young people, parenting courses for caregivers, Family Start and Social Work in Schools (SWiS) and Early Childhood Education (SWiECE), Family Dispute Services and our child-centred group learning courses.

At our Enliven centres for older people and people with disabilities, we have more programmes designed to maintain connection for those often isolated members of our community.

Then when all else fails, there’s Lifeline.

New Zealand needs to appreciate and fund appropriately these types of preventative programmes because they chip away at the bulk of social, cultural and economic conditions cementing poor mental wellbeing statistics in Aotearoa New Zealand.

For us it’s about weaving tightly Aotearoa New Zealand’s safety net that all of us need in times of crisis. We weave this with social support, freely available to all, that we know can save lives, enhance relationships and restore dignity.

To provide such preventative social support takes financial support and political will. And that’s why we do more than raise funds for this work, we also advocate to Government.

To read our position statement on mental health, please visit PSNZ Positions – Presbyterian Support New Zealand

* Patrick is not the real name of the Lifeline client in this story.

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