‘Own the feels’: New Zealand government tries to help teens recover from breakups

“OK, I’m doing it. I’m officially deleting my ex from all my socials,” a young woman says, looking determinedly into her phone screen. She leans closer and whispers: “I’m moving on.”

The footage appears in a New Zealand government video which affirms the universal truth that “breakups suck”, as part of an unusual new campaign to support young people through their experience of being dumped and suggest healthy ways to process their feelings.

Appearing on media and social media platforms popular with generation Z, the Love Better campaign “is a community of the freshly broken-up helping the freshly broken-up, to keep a little hurt from becoming a lotta hurt,” according to the video’s voiceover.

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It uses real footage of young people discussing how they deal with breakups, rather than staged or scripted enactments, and will include videos, articles, podcasts and other social media content – including on TikTok and Instagram.

“This isn’t an approach that has been trialled by any other government around the world,” the associate minister for social development, Priyanca Radhakrishnan, told the Guardian on Wednesday. “The way that we’re doing this using some of those real, raw stories but also ensuring that we have platforms that reach young people … is also the power of this campaign.”

Nearly 80% of New Zealand’s 16- to 24-year-olds have been in a relationship and 87% of those have experienced harm that went beyond the normal hurt of breaking up, according to research government commissioned in 2022. Most young people – 55% – are not confident or only “somewhat confident” they could end a relationship without harm, the figures showed.

While most of the hurt reported was emotional, one in six young people had faced physical arguments in their relationships.

The Labour-led government in 2021 launched New Zealand’s first strategy to eliminate domestic violence, an issue which has confounded successive governments and – while difficult to accurately quantify – is widely cited as one of the country’s worst social ills.

“We have very high rates of family and sexual violence in New Zealand,” said Radhakrishnan, who ran a refuge organisation before she entered parliament. “We’ve been working to turn that around and we know that we need some innovative ways to be able to do that.”

The campaign will cost NZ$6.4m ($4m; £3.2m) over three years, allocated through prior funding announcements, the government said.

An existing peer support service, Youthline, received some of the funds for a dedicated text and email service to serve young people who want more help after encountering the Love Better messaging online.

“Typically it seems like your only option after a breakup, other than necessarily hating the person or cutting off the person, is not feeling anything in response,” said Jo Madsen, Youthline’s clinical lead. “So it’s really cool to show actually, it’s normal to have all these feelings in response to a breakup and these are some ways you can deal with them in a healthy way.”

The rise of the internet and social media had introduced unique and complicated dynamics to breakups, she said.

Or, as one young person – filming themselves lying in bed during the campaign’s first video and working up to blocking their ex on social media – put it: “This is getting ridiculous. This is getting so out of hand. I need to sleep at night. I need to … get over this hurdle. Just delete it.”