She had a soft English accent that suggested she was an educated woman. Her words were articulate but seemed clouded with hurt and sadness. Even though her pain was unseen, a dull ache manifested in my mind.
It was late in the evening and she told me she had been aimlessly driving around before stopping to make the call to me. Her head felt heavy. She wasn’t at home. She felt stuck.
She was having a really hard day and wanted to be away from her family. Her desperation-filled voice told me she had had pills in her bag and she thought about taking them all. Do you want to kill yourself? I ask her. She hesitates and says very quietly, I am unsure.
I tell her it’s important for her to keep talking to me and that I need to her stay alive. I speak calmly and guide her into taking the pills out of the car and to place them in the bin. I ask her about her family and she mentions she has a partner and adult kids. She also tells me about a trusted friend and she agrees to go over to her place immediately.
I affirm her decision and ask her to repeat these steps. Her voice seems stronger and I sense a determination to reach out to her friend. I wish her all the best, tell her that her loved ones are thinking of her, and then gently hang up the phone.
This call took place about seven years ago. To do this day I have no idea what happened to this lady after this call. I sit in the hope that she reached out and got comfort and solace from her loved ones.
My time volunteering at Lifeline Aotearoa was one of the most amazing and challenging experiences of my life. As a telephone counsellor I spoke with people from all different backgrounds where no two calls were ever the same. Issues centred around loneliness, sadness, anger and hurt were common. I also spoke to people experiencing mental illness. I recall a schizophrenic woman who would regularly call up and recite poetry as a way of expressing herself. We were a valid, valued and non-judgemental support system.
Speaking with a suicidal caller is extremely exhausting and requires specific skills to guide them in a safe and sensitive manner. I will never forget the call I had with that lady and it made me realise how important it is for people to access support at times of utter desperation, frustration, isolation and loneliness.
It was devastating to find out on Wednesday that Lifeline only has enough funds to operate for one more year. Appeals to the Government were fruitless and a replacement Telehealth service is imminent.
With the crisis in mental health and the suicide rate reaching epidemic proportions, the Lifeline service has never been more critical. It was quoted: “Sadly, it’s estimated for every person who commits suicide 40-100 people attempt it”.
It frustrates me to think that Lifeline’s expertise and leadership in the mental health arena is being pushed to the side. During my time at Lifeline I was trained by the most sincere and skilful counsellors (Joan you are a legend!) who were guided by strong client-centred models of practice. I developed personally and professionally and credit Lifeline with changing my life for the better.
Lifeline DOES save lives and I am determined to make sure that I inform as many people as I can about this.
Can I urge you to sign this online form to petition the Government to support Lifeline to continue providing services in the future.
I thank you wholeheartedly x