Changing lives: What it’s like being a crisis-helpline volunteer

by admin on September 30th, 2019

filed under 苏州半永久

“I was really nervous taking my first call,” Lifeline volunteer Mani recalls.


“Thinking, when I take that call, are the words going to come into my brain, and out of my mouth? Or am I going to go blank?”

Mani is a volunteer with Lifeline, a crisis support hotline and online service, helping hundreds of thousands of Australians get through some of the hardest times of their lives.

She’s part of an army of volunteers who man phones around the country, talking Australians in crisis through their darkest moments.

Mani talks about her experiences as a volunteer:Interestingly, it was a crisis of her own – a divorce – that sparked the decision to volunteer with Lifeline.

“I got divorced and it was sort of like ‘what do I want to do with my life’?” the 34-year-old says.

After some soul-searching, she quit her job as an accountant and started studying to become a psychologist.

She soon began volunteering at Lifeline to gain some relevant experience in her new career.

“This has some impact on the world, it changes people’s lives.”

“Part of my whole reason from changing to psychology from accounting was that I wanted my life to be more meaningful,” she says.

“This has some impact on the world, changes people’s lives. Every time I walk out, I think ‘you’ve potentially changed someone’s life today… you’ve cheered them up, you’ve given them hope, put a smile on their face’.”

‘You have good days and bad days’

It’s a sentiment echoed by James, who has been volunteering at Lifeline for two years.

“There are good days like that, where you feel like you’ve made a difference,” he says.

“You’ve given some people some support, you’ve made a connection with people so they feel that you’ve cared about them and that there are people who care about them and want to talk to them.”

But the 23-year-old says there can be bad days as well, leaving him feeling “emotionally exhausted” and at times, “physically drained”.

“After a bad day, I leave here feeling pretty drained,” he says. “You have good days and bad days.”

“There’s no such thing as a perfect call with someone in crisis.

James describes his first call:”You can be having a pretty relaxed day sometimes, and some regular calls, and then bang, you can take a call from someone who has overdosed, or are in harm.”

Lifeline answers around 2,000 phone calls every day at centres around the country. Around holiday periods like Christmas and Valentine’s Day, that number can escalate.

Last year, around Christmas and New Year, Lifeline received more than 18,000 calls.

The service is one of several crisis support lines around the country and relies on thousands of volunteers to provide help to those in need.

“There’s no such thing as a perfect call with someone in crisis.”

Like Mani, James started volunteering as a way to give back and gain experience in a relevant field. He eventually wants to become a qualified counsellor, working with people in crisis.

“Some of the issues are quite hard hitting – bankruptcy, suicidal thoughts, people who’ve been abused, people with drug issues, family issues.”

“There’s a lot of relationship breakdown out there, and it can be the heart of why people are in crisis.”

Despite all of this, Sally, a volunteer with Lifeline for 11 years, says she finds hope in the resilience of callers.

“I’m surprised sometimes when you think about the difficulties people experience in their everyday living,” she says.

“Callers are in a difficult position for one reason or another, and still manage to rise above, where many would crumble under the pressures that are being placed upon them.

Sally talks about her experiences as a volunteer:”Volunteering has certainly increased my sense of faith in human nature.

“But at the same time, it can be disturbing to think about what people can do to their family members and other members of the community.”

Of the roughly 2,000 calls Lifeline receives each day, around 50 are from people who are at high risk of suicide.

“Sometimes, even now, when you hear a particular tone of voice, you can just feel the heart going a bit faster,” Sally says.

There can be a sense of responsibility, she says, but experience can help steady nerves and “hopefully help to relieve the stress and tension for the caller.”

Sally’s journey with Lifeline seems almost fortuitous. More than a decade ago, she began toying with the idea of undertaking some sort of volunteer work as her children became older.

While she knew of the work Lifeline did, it was a stall at a local shopping centre that drew her to the organisation.

“I suppose it was an opportune moment really,” she recalls.

“I don’t know if I’d made a conscious decision that it was the year I was going to volunteer.

“It sort of came up, talking about the training, and I thought it would be really useful to do that, and at the same time, give something back to the community.”

It’s an opinion that’s also held by Mani and James. While the work can be rewarding, and at times difficult, the three volunteers all say the communication skills they’ve learnt during their time at the crisis support hotline have had flow-on benefits in their lives.

“I’m definitely more vigilant around my friends or family.”

For Sally, a healthcare worker, learning to be impartial and simply listening are some skills she’s been able to transfer into her work and personal life.

“When people say you’re a nice listener, it’s nice, and you think ‘that’s what I’m supposed to do’!”

James says his volunteer experience has made him more aware of problems his friends and family are facing.

“I’m definitely more vigilant around my friends or family,” he says.

“I can manage my own crises now, and it’s given me better self-worth. I feel like I’ve got a purpose in life.”

“I always call myself a selfish volunteer because I’m getting so much out of it,” Mani says with a laugh.

“I don’t know if I’m giving back enough.”

Find more information on volunteering at Lifeline here.

Readers seeking support and information can contact: Lifeline 13 11 14, Kids Helpline 1800 551 800 or the Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 

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