2 July 2021

As Lifeline Canberra turns 50, its impact on Canberra has been undeniable

| Dominic Giannini
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Carrie-Ann Leeson

Lifeline Canberra CEO Carrie-Ann Leeson celebrated the organisation’s 50th birthday this week. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

The number of calls Lifeline Canberra has taken over the past 50 years may be countless, the number of people touched and lives saved may be unknown, but the tangible impact it has had on the community is undeniable.

The Canberra staple, which celebrated its 50th birthday this week, has grown immensely since it started in July 1971.

CEO Carrie-Ann Leeson, who started as a volunteer on the phones a decade ago, said it has been a privilege for the team to help shape the organisation into what it has become today.

“It is about the stories and the evolution of the service into what it has become today, and how it has helped shaped the community with the conversations we are having around mental health,” she said.

“The most outstanding difference for me has been people’s comfort levels in seeking help and the stigma reduction as a result.

“We have gone out really hard to try and establish Lifeline as approachable and put a face to the entity, remove the mystery and the barriers to connecting with the organisation, and I think the community has really embraced that.

“We are the custodians at this point in time – I hope we can do it justice before we hand it over.”

Changing the stigma around something as incessant as mental illness is not easy and takes time – more than half a decade of it.

The organisation has taken more than 790,000 calls since 1979 when it first began to track numbers.

Lifeline Canberra has answered more than 790,000 calls. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Ms Leeson said while the organisation does not solve problems over the phone, every one of these conversations can help alleviate someone’s distress, helping them cope and decide on their next step to get them on their way.

A life of meaning or a life of substance is not the absence of pain or loss, she said, which is why Lifeline focuses on being there to support people while their resilience and healing grows.

“An organisation like Lifeline is not there to remove that or stop that from happening because life happens to all of us,” she said.

“It is the same on the support line when people are struggling with thoughts of suicide. They only see the reasons for dying and it is Lifeline’s role at that moment in time to find a reason for living and to breathe as much life into that as possible.”

READ MORE My first Lifeline call

And the Canberra community appears to have been along for the ride, from the first ‘paddle-a-thon’ fundraiser on Lake Burley Griffin in October 1971 to three record-breaking book fairs in 2019 with more than 400 volunteers to a record-breaking turnout for this year’s nude winter solstice swim.

Fundraisers like Lifeline Canberra’s Winter Solstice Nude Swim continue to have record turnouts. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

“Holding more events is a combination of our team creating events but also individuals in the community coming out and saying, ‘you are the charity we want to work with and to raise funds for’,” Ms Leeson said.

For more information about Lifeline Canberra and to read the stories of people that the organisation has touched, visit www.lifelinecanberra.org.au.

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Peter Graves5:12 pm 04 Jul 21

As a volunteer Canberra Telephone Counsellor between 1978 and 1983, I endorse all comments about its value. I think it was especially so in those early days, when so many Canberrans had come from elsewhere and lacked family support.

It was even more so, in the early and late evenings for the regulars who would ring. All were anonymous, but we would occasionally recognise their voice(s) and catch up.

A supportive voice at the end of a phone. Someone to talk with. No matter what.

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