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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Local Lifeline answers “most calls ever had”

Novocastrians were among the unprecedented number of Australians calling for crisis assistance during COVID-19.

In the months from March to June, national charity Lifeline recorded 250,000 calls from Australians experiencing personal crisis, including 3,000 from the Hunter.

Lifeline offers 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services.

Local subdivision, Lifeline Direct, is based in Islington and accepts calls from Newcastle and Hunter regions, the Central Coast, Northern Rivers and the New England.

Lifeline Direct Regional General Manager, Julie Wicks, said the sheer number of people needing crisis support during COVID-19 had been felt across the country.

“We answered the most calls we ever had during this time,” she said.

“Thirteen eleven fourteen (13 11 14) is a national number and, locally, we play a part in that.

“Nationally we’re taking 3,200 calls per day or, if you break it down, it’s one call every 30 seconds.”

Lifeline Direct Regional General Manager Julie Wicks

Ms Wicks said people in the Hunter were anxious about an array of things.

“In the early weeks, 47% of our calls mentioned COVID-19,” she said.

“Some were worried about loved ones.

“For those who already struggle with mental health, the isolation increased anxiety and depression.”

Loneliness was also common among Hunter callers.

“The elderly experienced real loneliness during the pandemic,” Ms Wicks said.

“They couldn’t see their loved ones, they couldn’t get out, and they didn’t have any social outlets like they usually do, so it was a case of isolation, plus loneliness, plus worry.

“And, of course, the fear of the unknown escalates poor mental health.”

Lifeline Direct volunteers, who usually work four hours every fortnight, were presented with a lot of in-house challenges too.

“We were not prepared for the number or the type of calls that we received during this time,” Ms Wicks said.

“Our many volunteers did extra shifts to keep up.

“The pandemic definitely changed things. It was a lot of thinking on our feet to meet the demand from people in crisis.”

Maintaining the charity’s mission, however, became the volunteers mantra.

“Unconditional positive regard is the message we give every caller,” Ms Wicks said.

“No discrimination, no judgement.”

Community concerns were ongoing, Ms Wicks said.

“I think you’ll find, whilst we can see restrictions changing, many are worrying about what happens post-pandemic,” she said.

“They’re worried about how we return to life as it was, and what is the new normal.

“I think 3,000 (national calls per day) may be the new normal, so we’re preparing ourselves for this.

“We’ve added a new phone line and we’re recruiting new volunteers.”

  • Lifeline provides access to a range of services – suicide prevention support, self-help resources and mental health information, as well as a variety of programs specific to the needs of local communities.
  • Lifeline relies on funding from the community through donations, fundraising and corporate partnerships.
  • If you or anyone you know is struggling contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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