Getting the exclusive lowdown on The Lowdown

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Lowdown, is a youth-targeted website aimed at helping young New Zealanders get through depression and other mental illnesses, and curbing New Zealand's high suicide rates. Wikinews' Gabriel Pollard spoke to Candace Bagnall who manages the Ministry of Health's National Depression Initiative which runs The Lowdown.

The Lowdown is one of many attempts to improve access to services to young people in need.

—Candace Bagnall

The Lowdown is a service that allows young people to talk about how they're feeling while facilitating the new ways of communication easily adopted by those aged 13-24 years, the demographic of The Lowdown. Young people can talk with the team via email and mobile phone texting, and they also have the opportunity to talk with other similar like-minded people through the on site Internet forum. Ms Bagnall said that research undertaken proved that text and email were the most "effective" ways of communicating with youth. "We also consulted and pre-tested with young people."

Texting is the preferred method for communication.

Ms Bagnall said they were unsure how much the service - which started December 6, 2007 - would cost annually, but expected it to be near the half-million dollar mark due to the recent nature of the site and on going development.

They do not receive any free services from Internet providers and mobile phone companies. However this isn't a worry for them because, as Ms Bagnall says, it is a "public service, not a commercial one so it is not trying to run at a profit."

The Lowdown is always able to be reached. A trained health professional is available between midday and midnight each day, including Christmas Day. Ms Bagnall said, "They work shifts and have their holidays at other times."

There are six staff members at The Lowdown. However, Ms Bagnall says, "The Ministry is aware of gaps [...] in the number of health professionals available to young people. The Lowdown is one of many attempts to improve access to services to young people in need."

Not only do they have health professionals on staff, but they also have support from celebrities. Local New Zealand celebrities accompany the exploration of the site giving helpful advice; sharing their own personal experiences and stories on depression; and home grown music provided free of charge. "The musicians were extremely generous with their time and music. They were very supportive of the purpose of the website and didn't get paid for their contributions, but their music is being promoted through the site."

An average of 320 visitors per day have visited the depression-focused help site between January 1 and January 23, 2008. Ms Bagnall said that most of those accessing the service are in the targeted market. "The service has been running for only a few weeks so we don't have accurate figures yet and we don't know the ages of site visitors unless they access the help services."

New Zealand has high suicide statistics for both youth and older people. Each year there are 500 suicides, of which young people account for 100. Compared to other OECD countries, males between 15 and 24 years of age have the second highest suicide rate behind Finland. New Zealand is placed third behind Finland and Japan for females of the same age group. Age-standardised rates for males are fourth highest in the OECD, the fifth highest for females.

This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.