03/11/2015 - 05:27

Lifeline calls for support

03/11/2015 - 05:27

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A 95 per cent increase in calls to Lifeline WA over the past five years has prompted the crisis support service to raise funds for volunteer training.

GOOD CALL: Carla Shearman (left) and Fiona Kalaf are hoping to raise funds for crisis support training. Photo: Attila Csaszar

A 95 per cent increase in calls to Lifeline WA over the past five years has prompted the crisis support service to raise funds for volunteer training. 

As millions of Western Australians enjoy Christmas dinner with their families next month, 40 local Lifeline volunteers will be operating the telephone lines on what is the crisis support service’s busiest day of the year.

Lifeline WA chief executive Fiona Kalaf told Business News the ‘festive season’ was a time of extreme stress and sadness for some people, with one in four callers posing a suicide risk.

She said Lifeline’s national crisis support centres received a call every 37 seconds during the holidays and more than 50,000 calls from Western Australians each year.

This was more calls than volunteers based in WA were able to answer.

WA-based volunteers answered slightly more than 30,000 calls last financial year. This was up from 26,000 calls the previous financial year, and 15,500 during 2010-11.

Across Australia volunteers answered a total 820,000 calls last financial year. However, this still left 80,000 calls made from across Australia unanswered.

To cope with growing demand, the suicide and mental health support charity has launched a Lights for Lifeline campaign, calling on businesses to display Christmas trees and lights and make a pledge to Lifeline WA.

Ms Kalaf said $3,000 was required to cover the cost of training a single crisis support line volunteer.

She said volunteers undertook a minimum of 194 hours professional training over 12 months, and ongoing development.

Volunteers included retirees, doctors, nurses, psychology students, and even fly-in, fly-out workers, she said.

“It’s really important that we have people with a high level of accreditation, because if somebody is calling and they’re actually suicidal the caller deserves the best possible care, not just somebody who’s going to offer tea and sympathy,” Ms Kalaf said.

She said the organisation needed to raise enough money to train 100 additional volunteers to meet the growing demand.

Lights for Lifeline ambassador Carla Shearman, whose sister Leona took her own life last March after battling mental illness for more than a decade, said she wished Leona had called the crisis support service.

“What I learned through that experience was, as much as you love that person it’s not always easy to say the right thing. What I think is fantastic about the Lifeline crisis support service is those people do know what to say,” Ms Shearman, Professional Public Relations’s corporate and consumer group director, said.

“They’ve got the skills and the experience and the objectivity that you can’t have as a family member.”


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