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New local Lifeline crisis supporters to meet record demand for help

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Additional local Lifeline crisis supporters have started taking calls on the 13 11 14 service to meet record community demand for support.

The 35 new recruits take the total number in the Hunter and Central Coast to 134.

Lifeline Hunter Central Coast’s senior crisis support team leader Jen Hillis, who usually trains 24 rookies a year, admitted they were filling a vital need in the wake of COVID-19.

“Calls to 13 11 14 are up 25% and we are expecting that to continue through the Christmas period, which can be a difficult time for many,” she explained.

“The 33 busiest days in Lifeline’s 58-year history were all in August and September and we are expecting a record number of calls this festive season.

“Sadly, many people who experience mental ill health continue to be misunderstood.

“They have, and continue to struggle with, problems such as relationship break downs, the impacts of COVID-19 and being isolated from family and friends.

“Lifeline is there for people 24/7- to listen without judgement, acknowledge their pain and offer hope.”

While crisis supporters are largely volunteers, it costs Lifeline $3,500 to train and support each person.

“Being a Lifeline crisis supporter is an incredibly rewarding but also challenging role,” Ms Hillis said.

“We provide extensive training and ongoing supervision and debriefing for crisis supporters.”

One of the latest recruits is Tammii Suprano.

The 45-year-old Tighes Hill mum-of-three is volunteering as a way of doing something to help her community that also supports her new career as a paramedic.

She in going into her third year of Bachelor of Paramedicine at Charles Sturt University.

“COVID-19 has affected a lot of people so much, and there are a lot of mental health issues in the community generally,” Ms Suprano said.

“I have lots of life experience that I thought I could bring to the role and enjoy helping people.

“The Lifeline training is very in-depth but a simple lesson has been the importance of doing more listening and less talking.

“We are crisis supporters, not counsellors.

“Our role is to walk alongside people in their moment of crisis, to sit with them in the mud, not necessarily solve their problems there and then.

“I didn’t appreciate how valuable that can be for someone who is grieving, lonely and can’t see a way forward and doesn’t have someone they can talk to.

“The fact that we are anonymous makes it easier for some people to be open and share their problems and feelings.

“I am really enjoying it and people are so appreciative.”

Lifeline centres have experienced a fall in revenue to operate their part of the 13 11 14 service.

Its retail shops and fundraising events were significantly impacted by COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions.

While they receive some government funding, local Lifeline centres rely on community support to keep its free suicide prevention services running.

And, now, Lifeline Hunter Central Coast has launched a Shine a Light on Mental Health this Christmas fundraising campaign.

People can support the life-saving work of Lifeline Hunter Central Coast by making a donation, via https://shine-a-light.raisely.com/ or through its local websites – www.lifelinehunter.org.au or www.lifelinedirect.org.au/centralcoast

Ms Hillis said with each call to 13 11 14 costing about $39, any contribution people could spare would make a difference to someone in the community who was in crisis.

“You never know when you or someone you love will need to talk to one of our caring crisis supporters,” she explained.

Lifeline’s use of volunteers and its model of training were recognised in the final report of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.

In its report, the committee noted the work Lifeline does to ensure high standards of training and development and consistency across centres, which it said could be a model for developing the lived experience (peer) workforce in mental health and suicide prevention.

The Newcastle (Hunter) and Wyoming (Central Coast) centres are two of 40 nationally that are staffed by 4,000 crisis supporters.

Lifeline answers a call for help every 30 seconds and expects to respond to more than one million requests for support this year alone.

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