Under-10s talking suicide on NZ helpline

  • 31/07/2017
0800 What's Up Kids helpline gets calls from those as young as five.
0800 What's Up Kids helpline gets calls from those as young as five. Photo credit: Getty

It's a sad reality young New Zealanders kill themselves at a higher rate than anywhere else in the world.

But what many don't realise is the first signs of trouble appear in kids yet to reach double-digits.

"You can see the patterns of it starting, with young people engaging in self harm.  I've had younger ones that might just scratch themselves, and that's kind of the beginning before they get to full-scale cutting," says Natalie, a phone counsellor for 0800 What's Up kids helpline.

The service, operated by Barnardos, gets more than 45,000 calls a year and helps children as young as five. Yes, you read that right. Kids barely out of pre-school wanting help.

In the past year-and-a-half, 0800 What's Up counsellors have taken more than 800 calls from young Kiwis related to suicide. While most were between 14 and 16, some were under 10.

"We want to come in ideally at the earlier stage and see what we can do," says Natalie.

What's Up staff talk to young Kiwis needing a sympathetic ear.
What's Up staff talk to young Kiwis needing a sympathetic ear. Photo credit: Newshub

0800 What's Up, unlike many other helplines, doesn't use volunteers. All the staff are professionally trained, and having regular hours means when kids call, there will be a familiar voice on the other end.

"They can call us once if they like, or repeated times. Even if it's a chat about their pets or something, we're open to that because it's allowing them to build trust," says Natalie.

0800 What's Up team leader Lesley Butler says kids can ring and just be kids, if that's what they want to do.

"We've had kids ring and say, 'Oh my god - I've just spilled some orange juice on the carpet, what am I going to do?' It's a good sign that they can ring and talk to us about absolutely anything that's worrying them."

So if things do get serious, such as when they want to talk about suicide, they're not afraid to pick up the phone. 

What's Up has taken more than 800 calls relating to suicide in past year-and-a-half
What's Up has taken more than 800 calls relating to suicide in past year-and-a-half Photo credit: Newshub

Often the calls are sparked by something they've seen in the news, such as the recent terror attack at pop star Ariana Grande's concert in Manchester. Hit Netflix show 13 Reasons Why also prompted calls - and while the show split critics, Natalie says bringing the topic into the open can only be a good thing.

"It's fantastic that this is actually being spoken about, because it just normalises that it is okay to talk about it. Some people will think about suicide and the very thought of it will be enough of a relief to ever actually carry it out - and to talk about that is another relief."

0800 What's Up operates for nine hours a day. Currently demand outstrips what can be delivered in those hours. Barnardos hopes to raise enough to open the line up an extra hour a day for the rest of 2017, to help deal with the sheer number of kids needing help.

"It was my dream job - if you asked me what I wanted to do when I was in my teens, I would have said be a phone counsellor for young people," says Natalie.

"It's so rewarding - I go home every night feeling good about what I'm doing."

Donations to help keep the What's Up line operating can be made at barnardos.org.nz/whatsup.

Also, join the discussion on social media with the hashtag #keepthemtalking.

Barnardos is launching a fundraising campaign today and hopes to raise at least $30,000 by August 31st, to keep the lines open just a bit longer each day and save a few more lives.  

It strongly believes that every dollar could save a child's life from taking their own life.

This article has been created by Newshub for Barnardos.