Men's phone counselling service hits end of line

By Simon Collins

New Zealand's only national helpline for men will close tomorrow as its parent body Lifeline struggles with a funding crisis caused by the recession.

Mensline, started 15 years ago in response to high male suicide rates, is the smallest of Lifeline's services, receiving only 1114 calls in 2008 or about 1 per cent of all calls to the group nationally.

But Lifeline Auckland acting chief executive Peter Jansen said larger specialist services, such as Chinese Lifeline and Kidsline, might also have to be suspended unless funds are found urgently.

"That is something the board will defer a decision on until later this year," he said.

Calls to Mensline will be diverted after tomorrow to the main Lifeline service staffed by volunteers who are 75 per cent female.

Lifeline Auckland, which runs all the specialist national services and accounts for three-quarters of the Lifeline group's national budget, spent $122,622 more than it earned in the year to last June as major funders cut back.

"We are finding it more difficult in our bucket-rattling campaigns, we are finding it more difficult approaching corporates for sponsorship and grants.

It's tough out there," Mr Jansen said.

"But we are also receiving some good support from our sponsors, and I think that when the information about our situation gets to the public the community of Auckland will rally behind us."

Unlike other Lifeline services, which rely on volunteers, Mensline has been run in recent years by six part-time paid staff who will all lose their jobs tomorrow.

Mr Jansen said the line started with volunteers but switched to paid staff because "we needed to compete for men's time and ... we were not receiving the commitments that we needed".

He said the rest of the organisation had also undergone a "restructuring" but there would be no other redundancies, and he hoped that Mensline's closure would be temporary.

"We are suspending it until we see an increase in the fundraising dollars," he said.

Warwick Pudney, a men's counsellor who founded Mensline with the then Lifeline chief executive Bruce Mackie in 1995, urged the Ministry of Health to "step up" to keep the service going.

"Particularly in this country, we have a problem with male isolation, as in men not talking intimately or caring for each other, and one of the outcomes of that is our high suicide figures."

Health Ministry figures show that 370 of the 483 people who killed themselves in 2007 were men, often due to relationship problems.

"Relationship breakdown is the major thing they call Mensline about," Mr Pudney said.

LIFELINE'S LINES
* 0800-543-354: national 24/7 line, still operating.
* 0800-111-777: Lifeline Auckland toll-free number shut down from February 1 because of duplication with national line.
* 0800-636-754: Mensline, will divert to main 24/7 line after tomorrow.
* 0800-543-754: Kidsline, still operating.
* 0800-888-880: Chinese Lifeline, still operating.

ON THE WEB
www.lifeline.org.nz

- NZ Herald

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