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Behind the line: what goes on behind the doors of our local suicide prevention service

Lifeline’s call centres across Australia answered over one million calls of distress in the 2022/23 financial year, with five per cent of the calls picked up by the Northern Beaches branch.

Over 50,000 calls among a team primarily comprised of volunteers is no easy feat.

Lifeline Northern Beaches CEO, Sarah Grattan, says with April being the highest call month the organisation has ever experienced, it’s time to look to the community for much-needed funding.

“The surge came on the back of the tragedy in Bondi, followed by the Brittany Higgins result,” she says.

“We had over 4,000 calls in a day across the country, which is a really, really high level.

“It’s the people donating their time, their goods, or their money that helps us to be able to provide these services. And so you know, it’s tax time now, and we have an appeal for people to make donations.”

Inside the call centres at the Lifeline Balgowlah branch.

The Northern Beaches branch stretches from Kirribilli to Palm Beach and employs some paid staff but is primarily made up of around 600 volunteers.

Troy Saxby, who is the Telephone Crisis Support Manager at the Balgowlah branch, became a volunteer in 2021 after a personal experience influenced him to reevaluate his life.

“I had a personal experience of suicide that made me think differently about my life and what I could do,” Troy explains.

“I was working as an academic in education, and just thought I would start [volunteering] as a way to make a contribution, I guess, to people that were feeling suicidal. I got involved in volunteering at Lifeline. And now it’s my job. I really love it.”

The Northern Beaches call centres are primarily manned from 6 am to midnight and receive well over 1,000 calls a day.

The volunteers are not counsellors and therefore do not provide advice, however, they undergo an interview, 60 – 100 hours of training, followed by guided phone calls to ensure they can effectively provide care through listening and connecting.

“The training is quite rigorous,” Troy says.

“It’s a really supportive learning process to get people ready to go. But it requires a big time commitment from people. But it’s the most rewarding experience.

“It feels like such a privilege to be able to be there for someone in that time of need to make them feel that they’re not alone. That someone cares and is listening.”

Troy Saxby, Telephone Crisis Support Manager at the Lifeline Balgowlah branch.

One of the Balgowlah branch’s volunteers, Kelly Hargreaves, decided to join so she could contribute something meaningful with her free time.

“Just to be able to give something back to the community. This is such an amazing organisation largely made up of volunteers. It’s quite extraordinary. I think it adds a lot of value and meaning to my life,” Kelly says.

“Our main focus is we’re trying to feel out people to see where they are. We are a suicide prevention hotline.

“We are completely non-judgmental, it’s anonymous. We’re there just to listen and to connect, to be a human being on the other side of the phone line, draw on the strengths that they already have, and assist them to work out for themselves what they need to do next.”

The Balgowlah Lifeline op shop. Photo: Lifeline Balgowlah Instagram.

Lifeline offers a selection of services outside of the call centres, from affordable counselling with professional psychiatrists to Lifeline donation shops stationed across the beaches community.

“We run our specialised, face-to-face counselling sessions at $30 an hour. We also run free financial counselling and we run support groups for people who may be bereaved by suicide. We don’t get any funding for any of these services,” Cr Grattan says.

“The community can help in a number of ways. People can volunteer their time, their money or their goods. People can help us by donating goods into our shops, things that we can sell like fashion items, homewares, even books.”

Tax time is just around the corner and every donation to the charity is 100 per cent tax deductible.

It’s difficult to realise someone is struggling when they don’t share it.  Donating to Northern Beaches Lifeline means their services can continue going to those looking for a safe space to get help.

For Lifeline’s 24 hours crisis support call: 13 11 14


This article is not sponsored, however, we did create a video for Lifeline Northern Beaches which was. You can view that below.