Responding to mental health crises through social media

mental health

The Online Crisis Intervention programme supports social media users who are experiencing mental health crises.

It’s a world-first online project, run out of west-Auckland.

“Reaching out for help in a moment of crisis can be hard, ” says Andrew Sutherland.

Sutherland is the manager of Live for Tomorrow, a project of Zeal.

He says that to assume young people will do this when they need help is not a good fit for how our brains work at that age.

“At the same time, there’s a constant stream of young people expressing this crisis online.”

Live For Tomorrow, along with a team of more than 30 volunteers, takes help to those young people.

They respond in real-time and on the young person’s terms, chatting through social media platforms.

They call this Online Crisis Intervention.

The programme uses algorithms to search for certain hashtags, like #depressed or #suicidal, which help locate young people in distress.

Its current focus is on Instagram.

“That’s based off our research that shows that’s where there’s a concentration of this content being posted by young people,” says Elliot Taylor, executive director of Online Crisis Intervention.

“These are young people wherever they are in the world… they’re struggling, they’re in pain and they’re using this medium that is familiar to them, to be able to talk about that.”

Taylor says there have many instances where the programme has saved lives.

In March, Online Crisis Intervention project won the ICT-enabled community programme award for leadership in harnessing technology for social good.

Vodafone NZ Foundation has given Zeal its largest charitable grant: $700,000

Where to get help:

  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (24/7), Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7), text free to 234 (8am-midnight) or web chat (10am-10pm)
  • Kidsline: 0800 54 37 54 (24/7; Kidsline Buddies available 4pm-9pm)
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 TAUTOKO / 0508 828 865 (24/7)
  • What’s Up: 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 942 8787 (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends) or live chat (3pm-10pm)
  • Healthline: 0800 611 116 (24/7)
  • Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)
  • Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 or text free to 4202 (24/7)
  • If you feel you or someone you know is at immediate risk, call 111.


Additional reading

News category: New Zealand.

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