Lifeline volunteer Richard shares the story from a caller that brought him to tears

There’s a single 30-minute call that sticks with 70-year-old Lifeline volunteer Richard the most.

It’s a story, he tells, of pure and unimaginable grief.

It was about two years ago, he says. And early indications were there was nothing particularly unusual about the call.

“This guy rang up and he was talking about drug and alcohol problems he’d had and he’s having difficulty keeping his job and relationships going,” Richard tells

“We were talking for about 20 minutes, I suppose, and hopefully made a good connection as they call it.

Lifeline volunteer Richard said the story of a man watching his partner die in front of him stuck with him. Credit: Sam Aitken/

“We’re sort of working out things he could do to help himself through this and I thought ‘OK, this call is coming to an end’. And just before it did, he said ‘can I tell you one thing that I’ve never talked to anybody about before?’

“I said ‘go for it’.

“He started to tell me about an horrific accident that took his partner’s life and changed his life forever,” Richard recalls.

At this point, Richard’s voice breaks. He looks down at a sheet of notes he’s prepared and continues.

Desks in a Lifeline office in Sydney's Upper North Shore.
Desks in a Lifeline office in Sydney’s Upper North Shore. Credit: Sam Aitken/

“You know, he’s telling me this and his voice had gone really, really quiet when he started talking about it and we’re just going through it and I could just tell here, how much love he had for her. How devastating it was.

“And you could just hear in his voice he’s started to cry a bit and he apologised, and I said ‘don’t worry’.

“And that’s when I realised, I had tears coming down my face too.”

Richard outside the Lifeline office in the Upper North Shore.
Richard outside the Lifeline office in the Upper North Shore. Credit: Sam Aitken/

The heartbreak behind the story isn’t the only reason it’s stuck with Richard, he says.

One line stood out to him throughout the entire recounting – the fact the man had never spoken about it before.

“I said to him ‘have you never told talk to any of the counsellors about this? You’ve kept it yourself?’ And he said, oh yeah, I didn’t think that was relevant.

“Now, I’ve got no counselling background or anything else. But yeah, if I had to put money on it, I would bet large sums, if he would talk to somebody about this over a period of time, he’d work his way through it.”

The thing about Lifeline is that once the call is ended, the volunteer never finds out whether the caller sought professional help.

Richard says all he can do is hope that he did.

Richard said one caller's story left him with tears running down his face.
Richard said one caller’s story left him with tears running down his face. Credit: Sam Aitken/

The number of Australians turning to Lifeline can be described with a word that just about sums up 2020 – unprecedented.

For the first time in its 57 years of existence, more than one million calls are expected to be fielded in 2020.

The summer’s bushfire crisis, followed by the pandemic, created a perfect storm of people seeking mental health assistance.

The uptick in calls is a trend retiree Richard has witnessed firsthand.

He joined Lifeline about four years ago without a shred of experience working in counselling.

For decades, he worked in banking before eventually starting his own handyman business. So, why the change in career aspirations?

Lifeline volunteer Richard.
Lifeline volunteer Richard. Credit: Sam Aitken/

As he put it himself, watching a documentary that touched on mental health, followed by a healthy dose of procrastination, led him to investigate.

“I first thought about joining Lifeline 15 years ago. It seemed like a good idea but at that stage I would procrastinate a bit: work was too busy or it would take me away. So, I really didn’t have time.

“Then when I did retire, I watched a program that started talking about Lifeline and a whole lot of other things.

“And I realised that I live [nearby] and they were here. So that I couldn’t even use ‘too far to travel’ as an excuse. So, I decided to sign up for the training and did that for three months and here I am.”

And that was all. No lightbulb moment. No crisis of his own. Curiosity led Richard to Lifeline.

The hundreds of callers he’s fielded in the years since would be grateful he turned on the TV that night.

MEET MORE VOLUNTEERS (tap on their name)

Lifeline volunteer Dee.
Lifeline volunteer Dee. Credit: Sam Aitken/


Lifeline volunteer Antonia.
Lifeline volunteer Antonia. Credit: Sam Aitken/


Lifeline volunteer Andrew.
Lifeline volunteer Andrew. Credit: Sam Aitken/


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


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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