April 2013. I was an ickle first year, adrift in the big wide world of university assignments, keg stands, noisy lecture theatres, goon bags, and overenthusiastic health science students. To cut a long story short, the combination of university stress, a genetic predisposition to mental illness, insomnia, major life changes and the ever-persistent existential question of what I was doing with my life propelled me into depression and generalised anxiety disorder. I felt all alone, cut off from family and friends. Yet Youthline was there for me. I would phone them on 0800 37 66 33 and a caring, warm voice would answer. The voice was always non-judgemental. It was kind and helpful, and I would hang up feeling like maybe things would be ok after all.
In my opinion, Youthline is an incredible resource. Youthline Otago is a confidential, culturally responsive, non-judgmental support and community service focused on the needs of youth and our volunteers. According to Manager Brian Lowe, Youthline “aims to support people to develop the tools to empower themselves and to develop their own responses to their circumstances.” The Otago Branch is part of the Youthline National Helpline, and they run a face to face counselling service, community education programmes for personal and peer to peer support. They also have an extensive volunteer personal & career development programme.
I asked Brian what he thought needed to change in Dunedin. He replied with some great words of insight, arguing that “Dunedin needs to recognise the challenges and pressures facing youth and young adults and how their world has rapidly changed.” I agree. Just consider how social media has impacted our mental health. For example, a new survey published by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) in the UK has found that Instagram is the worst social networking app when it comes to its impact on young people’s mental health. There were no such pressures in our parents’ days. “We need to ensure they are listened to and supported to grow and development into healthy and resilient adults. We need to invest more in the development of their wellbeing.”
I wanted to learn more about Brian’s own experience with Youthline Otago. What were his expectations, and had they been fulfilled? “Coming into Youthline Otago,” replied Brian, “I had expected the types of issues that present themselves to our services. What has been surprising and more and more evident, is the raising prevalence of mental distress and the resultant behaviours associated with this, including; anxiety disorders, depression, suicide ideation, self harm and other behaviours.” New Zealand’s mental health system is reaching breaking point. Sadly, suicide accounts for a third of all deaths in those aged 15-24 and New Zealand’s youth suicide rate is the highest in the OECD. Something needs to be done, yet according to Brian, “the systems and agencies involved are struggling to cope.”
In such disturbing circumstances, what keeps you motivated, I ask Brian? His answer is heartwarming. “What keeps me motivated is that young people are resilient, have amazing potential, are socially aware and care for each other and their world. But at times, it is very overwhelming. To have the privilege to be invited to walk alongside someone and support them until they are strong enough not to need our help and then see the what they are capable of achieving, is worth the work.”
If you’re struggling with mental health issues, or if you just need someone to talk to and unload on, I’d recommend calling Youthline. They certainly helped me. They were a friend in need. Of course, I’d also recommend talking to a counsellor and potentially seeking medical help, but remember that Youthline is there. They can help, and provide face-to-face counselling and psychotherapy. Other services include community education, youth group facilitation and volunteer development opportunities.
Thanks for talking to us Brian. We wish you all the best.
Help Our Helpline
You can become a Youthline volunteer and join us in our pursuit of changing lives a phone call – or text or email – at a time. To find out how you can get involved and learn more about our counselling services & the Community Education Programme:
• Call our office on (03) 477 24 61
• Email us on email@example.com
• Join us on our Youthline Otago Facebook page