Lifestyle

How a dad’s disconnect from his son led him to want to be ‘the person that someone would reach out to’

Watching from the sidelines as his son dealt with his own mental health demons led Simon to volunteer at Lifeline.

The dad says he felt helpless when his teenage son wouldn’t confide in him.

That was several years ago, he told 7NEWS.com.au, but the anguish it caused is long-lasting.

“I had a child go through some significant mental health challenges in their teens,” a steady-voiced Simon explains.

“And for a variety of reasons the child would not communicate this with my wife and I, so that was quite confronting in itself that we couldn’t get involved to support him.”

Volunteer Simon said his son’s battle with mental health demons led him to join Lifeline. Credit: Sam Aitken/7NEWS.com.au

He says his son eventually overcame his challenges – but that awful feeling of being unable to help has stuck with him.

“And then, you know, a couple of years later when I retired I sort of felt I wanted to be that person that someone would reach out to and to provide the support for someone that I couldn’t provide to my son.

“That was really the fundamental reason for choosing Lifeline as a place where I wanted to volunteer.”

Simon is now 59 years old and spends four hours a week volunteering at a Lifeline call centre in Sydney’s Upper North Shore.

He’s been there for five years now and he says he consistently hears new things every shift as he talks to a wide-ranging spread of callers.

“In general we don’t get a lot of younger callers. So you know, I’ve been doing this for five years and I could probably count on the fingers of one or two hands how many callers I’ve had of high school age.”

Simon stands outside the Lifeline building on the Upper North Shore.
Simon stands outside the Lifeline building on the Upper North Shore. Credit: Sam Aitken/7NEWS.com.au

The most common call he says he takes are domestic-violence related.

Working the morning shift, Simon says he finds victims of domestic violence tend to wait until their partner has gone to work before calling.

He concedes the frequency of calls has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic and says it’s often cited by those phoning in.

But it’s rarely the sole reason for a call.

“You know, you won’t hear ‘I’m in lockdown and in quarantine and I’m going crazy because I’m here’.

“It’s more ‘I’ve got these problems and now I can’t see my psychiatrists face-to-face because of COVID, or I can’t see my friends’ and that’s really upsetting.”

Simon emphasises the support network Lifeline establishes for its volunteers.
Simon emphasises the support network Lifeline establishes for its volunteers. Credit: Sam Aitken/7NEWS.com.au

Not every call is grim, however.

As he and every other volunteer who graciously offered their time to 7NEWS.com.au have told us, everybody deals with a different crisis.

And Lifeline has people in place to handle a wide-ranging field of issues.

“I think probably one of the calls that stuck with me recently was a mistake call,” he said.

“Our hotline number is one digit away from an insurance company’s number, and this lady rang and she sounded really distressed.

A sign at the lobby of a Lifeline office in Sydney's Upper North Shore.
A sign at the lobby of a Lifeline office in Sydney’s Upper North Shore. Credit: Sam Aitken/7NEWS.com.au

“She said ‘I’m really distressed about my insurance policy, can someone please help me?’

“And I kind of guessed it was probably for the insurance company but you have to do it right regardless so I said ‘are you so distressed but you’re thinking of suicide?’

“And she said to me ‘No, it’s just my insurance policy’.

“I said ‘look I think you might have called the wrong number. I think you want this insurance company’.

“And sure enough she did. And she thought that was hilarious so we had a little chat and she was on her way but it stuck with me because it shows you never know what kind of call you’re going to get.”

Lifeline has allocated a myriad of support structures for its volunteers.
Lifeline has allocated a myriad of support structures for its volunteers. Credit: Sam Aitken/7NEWS.com.au

The sporadic nature of the job can be confronting, Simon says.

But Lifeline has myriad measures in place to ensure volunteers are well looked after.

“I exercise every day – walk or run through the bush. I’ll do weights, yoga, lots of different things to relax and self-care,” Simon says.

“In here, you know, you have to sign off with a supervisor and they’ll always ask you how you are and that will always trigger something if you need to talk about it.

“And that’s if you haven’t already spoken about it to a supervisor, so it’s amazing how well that works and I guess I’m just lucky that I can walk out the door and then I can leave it behind.”

MEET MORE VOLUNTEERS (tap on their name)

Lifeline volunteer Dee.
Lifeline volunteer Dee. Credit: Sam Aitken/7NEW.com.au

DEE

Lifeline volunteer Antonia.
Lifeline volunteer Antonia. Credit: Sam Aitken/7NEWS.com.au

ANTONIA

Lifeline volunteer Andrew.
Lifeline volunteer Andrew. Credit: Sam Aitken/7NEWS.com.au

ANDREW

Lifeline volunteer Richard.
Lifeline volunteer Richard. Credit: Sam Aitken/7NEWS.com.au

RICHARD

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

For further information about depression contact beyondblue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

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