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Let’s celebrate our heroes in headsets

Lifeline, the national organisation that provides all Australians experiencing emotional distress with access to 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services, is celebrating its 60th Anniversary at a time when it is in demand more than ever before.

Lifeline has never been busier.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Summer bushfires, Lifeline received an average of about 2,400 contacts per day.

That number has since blown out to 3,800 a day.

Lifeline has seen a 49 per cent increase in people reaching out for help via its website and an increase in crisis calls from people in financial distress, especially vulnerable and young people.

Lifeline Australia CEO Colin Seery said, “Our centres are reporting an increase in help seekers who have never experienced financial stress before. And we know cost-of-living pressures also disproportionately impact the most vulnerable, including people who are unemployed, renters and young families.”

Lifeline’s crisis support phone line was the first of its kind in Australia. It was founded in Sydney on March 16, 1963, by the Rev. Dr Sir Alan Walker OBE after he took a call from a distressed man who later took his own life. Determined not to let isolation and lack of support be the cause of more deaths, Sir Alan launched what was later to become the organisation’s 24/7 telephone crisis line, 13 11 14.

With roots in the Central Methodist Church (now Wesley Mission), Lifeline’s very first phone operator began taking calls in a building on Flinders Street, Darlinghurst. Lifeline took 100 calls on that first day and the phone hasn’t stopped ringing since, quickly expanding around Australia.

By the end of 1963 Lifeline had ten full-time staff and 300 volunteers.

Lifeline’s Centre in Flinders Street, Darlinghurst where, on March 16, 1963, Lifeline’s very first phone operator began taking calls. Photo: Supplied by Wesley Mission

Today, Lifeline is the country’s leading crisis support and suicide prevention organisation. Its network of 41 centres and 11,000 staff and volunteers across Australia receives more than 2.5 million telephone, text and online chat contacts each year.

It is involved in all aspects of suicide prevention and provides services including non-judgmental suicide prevention support, self-help resources and toolkits, mental health information and programs, training and advocacy. Some centres offer face-to-face crisis support and counselling, including financial counselling.

Lifeline’s services are important because every day nearly nine Australians die by suicide — more than double the road toll.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians between the ages of 15 and 44 and 75 per cent of those who take their own life are male.

Beyond the tragic loss of each person, the impact of a suicide death is felt by up to 135 people, including family members, work colleagues, friends, and first responders at the time of death.

Every 30 seconds, a person in Australia reaches out to Lifeline for help.

According to John Brogden, President of LifeLine International, and Patron and former Chairman of Lifeline Australia, that was good news because it meant people were reaching out.

“They’re not suffering in silence. Rather than sitting at home thinking they’re going to take drastic personal action, people in increasing numbers are picking up the phone and ringing Lifeline, going online and texting us,” he said.

“You pick up a phone or you text a complete stranger, someone you’ll almost certainly never meet in your life, and pour out your deepest and darkest despair and difficulties.

“It’s that non-judgmental, unconditional listening that makes the difference for people who don’t think anyone wants to listen.”

Brogden said Lifeline had played an incredible role in letting people know there was hope during personal crises and despair.

“We’ve had bushfires, floods, COVID, phenomenal disruption in people’s lives and now we’re seeing interest rate increases.”

He said Lifeline’s aim was not to normalise suicide but instead to normalise mental illness.

“We don’t want people to see suicide as the best way out of a difficult situation. We want them to see there’s hope.

“So it really is a case of taking it slowly, taking it calmly and reaching out for help.

“If you are feeling under enormous stress and pressure, if you are worried, if you’re at risk of hurting yourself or taking your own life, please don’t suffer in silence.

“Please ring Lifeline or reach out to a friend. Get some help, get the help you need because that will get you through a very difficult situation.”

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Reach Lifeline via the phone service on 13 11 14, the online text service 0477 13 11 14 or chat service (https://bit.ly/3Ss5VOp), all available 24/7.

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