26 November 2020

My first Lifeline call

| Dominic Giannini
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Lifeline Canberra

Lifeline Canberra crisis call supporters take thousands of calls from all around Australia each month. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

All the training in the world can’t really prepare you for that first call, picking up that phone and being thrown into someone else’s crisis.

“Hello, this is Lifeline, may we help you?”

And there goes all certainty of where the phone call will take you as you dive into the deep end.

Callers can be in severe emotional distress or want to talk to someone about literally anything because who are Lifeline to decide what a crisis means to you? A crisis is more than an objective threshold, it’s a reaction, the fervent anxiety or despair that person is feeling right now.

It takes a lot of courage to dial a complete stranger and trust them in a state of vulnerability, and that’s enough to get into anyone’s head as they pick up the phone.

What if I say the wrong thing? Did that sentence resonate with them? Should I have used that word? Argh, what was I thinking saying that!?

And then the caller continues talking to you about their problems.

What? How can that be? I just said the wrong thing, why aren’t they chastising me?

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Then you realise, at the end of the day, you are having an empathetic conversation with someone who may have nowhere else to turn, who may have no one else to support them.

In a world of short attention spans and TikToks, listening and attentiveness can be as rare as hen’s teeth.

That realisation is what makes it worth it. That sigh at the end of a phone call when the person lauds Lifeline and how happy they are that someone is there to listen, unconditionally, to them.

Here’s a little secret that degrades the Italian in me, sometimes you don’t even have to talk that much.

You’d be surprised at how many people have deep insights into their own life that need to be verbalised and heard.

READ ALSO Lifeline Canberra experiences 130 per cent increase in emergency intervention incidents

Perhaps the biggest misconception is that Lifeline is only for people in immediate crisis. “I’m sorry to take up your time, I know this might not be serious enough …” is one of the most disheartening things I hear on the phone.

In a world where we encourage people to reach out, no one should feel ashamed for doing so.

The connection created through a conversation today can prevent tomorrow’s crisis. And that’s what Lifeline is here for.

If you or anyone you know needs help, you can call Lifeline’s 24-hour crisis support line on 13 11 14.

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