3 August 2020

Lifeline Canberra experiences 130 per cent increase in emergency intervention incidents

| Dominic Giannini
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Lifeline Canberra CEO Carrie Leeson

Lifeline Canberra CEO Carrie Leeson says the organisation has experienced a dramatic increase in demand and situations where emergency intervention is required. Photo: File.

Lifeline Canberra has experienced a 130 per cent rise in crisis calls regarding suicide, child safety and domestic violence requiring emergency intervention in the past year, while the number of people experiencing immediate safety issues has increased by 8 per cent.

The organisation has also put 28 per cent more safety plans in place, used where there is not an immediate risk. They mean that Lifeline will keep in contact with the person to check if they are safe over the short-term.

There’s also been a major increase of 520 per cent (885 calls) in the number of Canberrans wanting to talk about local issues compared to the 2019 March-June quarter.

The stress on the organisation from a dramatic increase in demand has been compounded by the reduction of staff availability because of the pandemic, Lifeline Canberra CEO Carrie Leeson told an ACT Parliamentary inquiry.

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“We have had a drop off in our crisis supporters being able to physically do shifts and take calls,” Ms Leeson said.

“It has placed an enormous amount of pressure on the organisation – we have had to cancel a number of crisis support training rounds, further impacting on our ability to meet current and future demand.”

While more than 100 applications have come through for the next training program, only 45 people can be trained because of the pandemic. The last two training rounds had to be cancelled because of COVID-19 restrictions.

It costs the organisation $10,000 to train a new crisis supporter in the first year before they can even begin answering calls, Ms Leeson said.

“We are limited only by funding. In Lifeline’s history, we have never been able to answer every call,” she said.

Lifeline Canberra currently receives $200,000 a year from the ACT Government for its services. The organisation received an extra $250,000 this year under government stimulus measures to cope with the surge in demand. However, the base cost for the organisation is $2.5 million each year, Ms Leeson said.

Since lockdown commenced earlier in the year, calls regarding financial issues have increased 44 per cent.

RELATED: Calls for more Lifeline crisis supporter volunteers as demand surges

Executive officer of the Mental Health Community Coalition ACT Simon Viereck also fronted the inquiry, saying there has been a rapid increase in demand for temporary accommodation and substance use issues.

“[This] probably masks an increase in anxiety,” Mr Viereck said.

“We have seen demand for mental health services reflect a pattern you might expect around a major emergency – an initial dropping off in demand and then a more rapid increase later on.

“In the ACT, the drop-off in demand was perhaps not as widespread as some other jurisdictions, but we certainly have seen that increase in demand, acuity and level of need later on.”

Lifeline provides short-term support for people who are feeling overwhelmed or having difficulty coping or staying safe. For confidential one-to-one support with a trained Lifeline telephone crisis supporter, call 13 11 14.

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