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Lifeline's Invisible Web of Community Support Ready to Help

18 March 2021

With a number of sensitive topics in the media spotlight recently, the public may have become more aware of Lifeline’s 13 11 14 number appearing in these stories.

But what many people may not know is that when anyone around Australia picks up the phone and calls 13 11 14, they activate an invisible web of community support which carries them through their crisis.

While callers to Lifeline’s telephone crisis support service are certainly aware of the volunteer who answers their call, they are not likely to be aware of the dedicated team of people who enabled their call to be answered.

Invisible to the community is the 180 hours of training that volunteers need to undertake to develop the skills required to guide callers through their darkest time.

Also invisible to the public are the trainers who mentor and coach our volunteers through their hours of training to ensure they are prepared to pick up their first call, and every call after that.

The community also doesn’t see the extra hours of training our shift supervisors have undertaken which enable them to guide our crisis support volunteers through particularly distressing calls.

Then there’s the psychologists who provide our volunteers with clinical supervision to ensure their skills are continually honed and the wellness team who provide debriefing and psychological support.

Also invisible is the workforce planner who forecasts the number of crisis supporters needed on each shift so that Lifeline WA can answer as many calls as we can from people who need our help.

And in a year when we have never experienced such uncertainty, that number of calls has kept increasing.

Lifeline WA answered almost 40,000 calls last year; the most in our history.

At Lifeline we are used to dealing with emotional distress and anguish; it’s what we do.

We are also used to responding to dramatic surges in call numbers in response to a catastrophe or a triggering event that happens in the community.

However, we have never known so much distress for such a prolonged period. Partly as a result of the anguish caused by both the bushfires and the ongoing mental health effects of COVID-19 , we are breaking call records so often that we have stopped commenting on it.

As chief executive, I look at our calls-answered rate and think: “That’s all we’ve got. If there is another surge, another upward trend, what can we do?” And then our volunteer crisis supporters somehow find more . . . more time, more shifts, more compassion.

Lifeline WA has supported our volunteers and staff by providing increased psychological and wellbeing support and professional development.

We have invested in creating reinforcements for our weary crisis supporters by training the next generations, increasing our number of volunteers to 240, and planning to train more.

Our community has needed our crisis supporters in numbers we had not envisaged. We have been able to respond, scale up, to mobilise and prepare our crisis supporters to deal with demand that no-one saw coming.

When we have asked our crisis supporters to give more, we have been able to provide more because of the incredible generosity of our corporate partners, community fundraisers and individual donors who stepped up to support us despite the uncertain times. In doing so, they all became part of our invisible web of support, for which we are very grateful.

And for anyone in crisis who is contemplating calling 13 11 14, we’d like you to remember that you are not alone.

The web of community support may be invisible but I hope we can all take comfort in knowing it’s there.

Lorna MacGregor is the chief executive of Lifeline WA.

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