The devastating reason calls to Lifeline have skyrocketed

Olivia Lambert
·News Editor
·5-min read

Over the past year Lifeline has been receiving more calls than any other time in its 58-year history.

There are more than 3000 people in crisis reaching out every day – a call every 30 seconds.

During a four-hour shift by the phones at Lifeline, Madison Kho alone will talk to about eight different people who find themselves in a mental health struggle.

From the moment she picks up the phone, she listens intently to their story and reminds them they are not alone.

"I am a psychologist and what made me want to be a crisis supporter was the opportunity to show care for people," she told Yahoo News Australia as part of its What's Up? mental health series.

"And knowing that you can have very, incredibly difficult moments in life and everyone should always have somebody else to reach for."

Lifeline crisis support worker Madison Kho. Source: Supplied
Madison Kho says listening is one of the most important aspects of being a Lifeline crisis support worker. Source: Supplied

While the 25-year-old crisis support worker says no call is ever the same, she has revealed there had been one common issue in her conversations over the past year alone.

"You do have the issues that come up with people's concern for their safety and suicidal ideation, but the past year especially there is a lot of loneliness in people," Ms Kho said.

"In some cases it is directly linked to Covid – people just don't have the same contact they usually have, and it's very difficult when you're managing the demands and hardships of life and you've lost that footing.

"I feel like it's almost like the soul reaching out for another soul for company. Somebody who is feeling truly alone, and they've reached out to a service they have never called before just to have somebody there listening to them."

Ms Kho said with every call she builds a connection with the person on the other end of the line, especially when they realise the call taker exists in the same world as them and cares, even though you've never met.

"Those particular people are the ones I think about and I wish I could take a car or a plane to be with them physically," she said.

"But that time you spend on the phone, you're able to get quite close through this connection and understand you're not alone."

What Madison says to those calling Lifeline

Ms Kho said she spends her time during Lifeline calls listening to their stories to build a trust and understanding.

"I'm just quiet a lot of time and respond empathetically, letting them know they've been hurt," she said.

"I will always broach whether they have had thoughts of suicide because it can be hard for a person to say that themselves to you."

Some of the calls Ms Kho finds most emotional are the ones where she can see a person is trying hard but life has dealt them an unfair hand.

As we enter 2021, after struggling through a devastating 2020, Yahoo News Australia has teamed up with Lifeline to tell the truth about mental health with real stories from the real people who have lived it.

Have a story to share? Email whatsup@yahoonews.com.

"Domestic violence situations are always difficult, or when you're trying to help a person who is feeling insecure, in danger, or trapped in situations they really don't want to be in," she said.

With the average call lasting 19 minutes, it's vital for Ms Kho and other call takers to look after themselves when dealing with such sensitive topics.

"It's really important to use the support that is there in your peers and supervisors," she said.

"I feel like the best way to go about it is if there is something you are thinking about sharing with them then you probably should."

When Ms Kho is not on shift she makes and effort to have lighter conversations while always remembering she is in a privileged position.

"You're not infallible as a human and you need to be able to reach out to others as you would encourage others to reach out."

Thinking about calling Lifeline?

Ms Kho said those who were thinking about calling Lifeline but were nervous to pick up the phone could just hang up any time they felt they were not ready for the conversation.

"Nobody is going to keep you on the phone," she said.

A file picture of someone staring out a window. Source: Getty
Most people who call Lifeline report feelings of loneliness, Lifeline worker Madison Kho said. Source: Getty/file pic

"The nervousness people have around calling can sometimes be because it has been something in their own head for so long, and they haven't shared it with anybody.

"Talking about it can make it feel real and that is scary, and it is brave for people to make especially that first call.

"Try it out – you don't know how it's going to work out and bringing issues into the light can often lead to relief.

"I would encourage people to think about it as more of a relief than any sort of weakness."

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

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