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Ministry of Health considering proposal to fund struggling suicide prevention helplines

A landmark move to guarantee the future of vital suicide prevention helplines is shrouded in mystery.

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But the proposal, involving Lifeline and Youthline, remains shrouded in mystery. Source: 1 NEWS

By Emily van Velthooven and Simon Plumb

1 NEWS can reveal the Ministry of Health is considering a proposal for Lifeline and Youthline to be Government funded - which could help keep the charity-run services afloat.

But an insider says the plan is being held back.

And now, senior officials are refusing to go into detail when questioned about the proposal.

In times of crisis, many New Zealanders turn to Lifeline and Youthline in a cry for help.

But with those services under financial pressure, some calls are being answered by a machine and 1 NEWS can reveal the Government's helpline - 1737 - is stepping in.

It's taking transferred calls from Lifeline and Youthline because staffing numbers in the evening can't keep up with demand.

And now there's a proposal for the struggling charities to be saved, with the introduction of taxpayer funding to secure their long-term existence.

A well-placed source, whose identity 1 NEWS has protected, says the proposal was halted last year.

"The minister was, has been keen for this to happen. He's all been for Lifeline and Youthline getting Government funding but the ministry aren't as up for the idea as the minister and the Government," the source said.

"I think there's real sadness among people and frustration that we could be doing more but we're not."

Source: TVNZ

1 NEWS has seen a draft plan for rolling out the centralisation of the mental health helplines, potentially under Government provider Homecare Medical.

Homecare Medical denies a merger is in the works, but they now admit they have been talking to Lifeline and Youthline about working together.

"The three organisations have been talking about how they can share systems processes and support each other at times of high demand," a spokeswoman from Homecare Medical said in a statement.

"Discussions are not on hold. Relating to mental health helplines the three organisations submitted some documents outlining our thinking to the Ministry of Health prior to Christmas and we are in a process with them to clarify elements of this.

"As it relates to the mental health helplines we are in a formal process of clarifying our thinking with the ministry and at this stage can not provide further detail until we have completed this process. That’s standard."

Health Minister David Clark referred questions from 1 NEWS to the Ministry of Health, who also refused to share any detail.

"The Ministry of Health has received documentation from Presbyterian Support Northern, Youthline and the National Telehealth Service about how they would work together and this is currently being assessed," a Ministry spokeswoman said.

"As this is a formal process we can't share any of the detail as it may prejudice the outcome of our evaluation process. This is normal process for evaluating any proposal and there is no particular sensitivity to this issue."

Mental health was a key part of Labour's successful 2017 election campaign and last year Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's Government rolled out what it called a "Wellbeing Budget" to help tackle issues like mental health.

There's also been a Government inquiry into mental health, which just over a year ago made 40 recommendations for change - 38 of which were accepted.

"If a Government is saying they're going to invest in mental health, to me that makes logical sense to invest in often the first point of contact. To me that says, as someone who once rang a helpline on the edge of a cliff, that my life wasn't worth fighting for. I don't understand," said mental health advocate Jazz Thornton about the helpline proposal.

But what the future is for New Zealand's mental health helplines - and most importantly - the people who need them, remains to be seen.