Kiwi youth texting for help, dealing with homelessness & transgender issues

Kiwi youth now send texts for support, and are dealing with sexual orientation and transgender issues, homelessness and online bullying compared to 20 years ago, according to leading helpline service Youthline.

The organisation received 80,085 contacts from young people seeking support for a variety of issues in 2014-15, with an overwhelming 91% of those coming to the helpline via text message.

Youth using texts to communicate with the service has increased as it has become commonplace for teenagers to have mobile phones, and because it helps break down the biggest barrier to seeking help, says Youthline CEO Stephen Bell.

“Many different barriers have been identified including financial, lack of youth-friendly health services, concerns over privacy and confidentiality, and transportation, but over the years in our regular surveys we have consistently seen that the biggest barrier is embarrassment. Texting has certainly made it a lot easier for marginalised communities to reach out,” says Bell.

The most common way youth are accessing information about sex, drugs, alcohol, depression, stress, and health is through the internet in order to avoid that feeling of embarrassment, he says.

“An important part of Youthline’s work is to ‘normalise’ and de-stigmatise asking for help, and to provide quality information and support services for those that do reach out. The service offers a free text number and the ability to email for help as ways to overcome the embarrassment factor,” he says.

Along with the way they reach out, the issues that young people are seeking help for have also changed significantly in the past 20 years, says Bell.

“The ability to communicate more easily and access a huge array of information via electronic social networks has transformed the entire social nature of being young,” says Bell.

The top five biggest issues facing young people today are alcohol, drugs, bullying, peer pressure and self-esteem, according to a major survey1.

However, significantly fewer young people now are smoking cigarettes, binge drinking, trying marijuana, or engaging in risk-taking behaviour such as dangerous or drink driving as compared to 14 years ago2.

Kiwi youth text, call and email the service for help with a variety of problems, with 15% of calls about depression, 14% about family relationships or peer relationships, and 12% about partner relationships or suicide.

A further 9% of calls to Youthline are about self-harm, 7% about fear and anxiety, 4% about bullying, and 2% about grief and loss, or sexual violence.

“One trend we have highlighted for 2015 is a significant increase in issues related to self-harm and immediate risk of harm from suicide. Our support teams are also needing to learn more about cultural competency for working with gay and transgender young people,” says Bell.

“It’s important we know how to help, because those who are not supported in the way they need to be are significantly more likely to have issues with self-esteem, being accepted, peer pressure, suicide, eating disorders, drugs, sexual abuse, spirituality and gender.”3

Not only have the medium of contact and issues changed, but the demand for help has also grown exponentially, with the number of young people Youthline works with each year climbing from around 3000 two decades ago to 36,000 last year.

The comparison comes on the 20th anniversary of GSK New Zealand’s partnership with the local service, which sees the pharmaceutical company donate funds and volunteer for Youthline in order to support its work with young people and their families.

The service was established in 1970, and has helped hundreds of thousands of young Kiwis. Bell says it’s the support of sponsors such as GSK that is key to ensuring they continue to be given the help they need.

“Our long term partnership with GSK reflects the relationship that young people need, not overpowering, but consistently being there. Through this relationship, Youthline has grown 800-fold, being there for more young people consistently and effectively.”

GSK New Zealand general manager Anna Stove says the partnership is close to her team’s heart. “We are proud of such a longstanding relationship with Youthline, and that we are helping in our own small way to contribute to keeping Kiwi youth feeling healthy, happy and supported.”

“We look forward to many more years supporting this valuable service, and hope that the young people in New Zealand continue to get the help they need, when they need it.”


  1. 2014 Youthline State of the Generation Survey 
  2. Youth’12 research between 2001 and 2012
  3. 2014 Youthline State of the Generation Survey 

Enquiries or interview requests please contact:

Kim O'Donohue
Phone: +61 477 322 431

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