Lifeline Comes to Western Melbourne as Calls Surge

The team involved in Lifeline's five-year partnership with Victoria University, including press conference speakers Lifeline Australia CEO Colin Seery, Victoria University Vice Chancellor Prof. Adam Shoemaker, Western Bulldogs Community Foundation General Manager Kashif Bouns, Lifeline Crisis Support Trainer Prathiti Shah, and Victoria University Deputy Vice Chancellor of Partnerships Hon. Wade Noonan

Lifeline Australia CEO Colin Seery launches Lifeline’s new call centre with Victoria University Vice Chancellor Prof. Adam Shoemaker, Western Bulldogs Community Foundation General Manager Kashif Bouns, Lifeline Crisis Support Trainer Prathiti Shah, and Victoria University Deputy Vice Chancellor of Partnerships Hon. Wade Noonan.  Image: Victoria University.

Mental health support service Lifeline has set up shop in Western Melbourne after a surge in demand from people in the region.  The first-of-its-kind partnership with Victoria University tackles young people’s growing concerns – and Lifeline’s own stretched capacity.

Loughlin Patrick reports.

Bushfires, pandemic, floods and inflation; crisis after crisis has seen a record number of people turn to Lifeline for help.

The helpline now takes over four thousand calls and online chats a day – sometimes pushing the service beyond its limits.

“We’re sort of missing one in five calls at the moment,” says the general manager of Lifeline’s new Western Melbourne call centre launched today: Jason Doherty.

“So that’s why we’re opening up new centres: because we need to make sure that we have capacity for people to come and volunteer to answer calls.”

Lifeline opened a local call centre on Friday after seeing a 35 per cent surge in demand from people in Western Melbourne.

It’s the state’s first centre to operate from a university – partnering with Victoria University and based on its St Albans campus.

The university’s deputy vice-chancellor for partnerships Wade Noonan welcomed the collaboration at a press conference today.

“It could actually save lives, by having, for example, our students working – being able to speak the language or understanding the cultural differences in terms of working, living in the community and servicing that community.”

Noonan was state police minister during the Andrews Government’s first term and has personal experience with tackling trauma.

“I needed to take a break from work for three months, and at the time I didn’t realise that I was suffering from vicarious trauma – which really was PTSD,” he said at today’s press conference.

Addressing attendees, Noonan continued: “Being here, in this room today with all of you, understanding that we’re all supporting what we’re seeking to do across Lifeline and [Victoria University] is really critical.”

Lifeline aims to broaden its support base by coming to Western Melbourne – better representing callers’ backgrounds and trauma.

Western Bulldogs Community Foundation general manager Kashif Bouns says the area’s diversity is what makes it unique, including “its socioeconomic makeup” and “the waves of migrants that have called the west of Melbourne home”.

He’s encouraged by Lifeline’s openness to listen and learn from a range of community members and services when engaging locally.

“So I guess the key thing in the west of Melbourne is how do you ensure you’re reaching all the facets of the community?” Bouns asks.

“Because Lifeline is so busy as it is – they’re always going to be busy – but what we need to understand is if the most marginalised and most in need communities are using the service the most.”

The Western Melbourne expansion comes at a critical time for Lifeline as it battles to keep up with demand in its 60th year running.

Nine volunteers are based in Western Melbourne, with Lifeline aiming to grow this to 50 by the year’s end.  But training is intensive.

“That’s going to take 18 months or so,” says Doherty of Lifeline’s initial eight to ten-week training program followed by an extensive internship, “but we’re really happy that we’re going to have 20 [volunteers] by the end of June.”

There’s been some political reaction, with state opposition leader John Pesutto welcoming Lifeline’s announcement.  But he says challenges still lay ahead for Victoria’s mental health system more broadly.

“Access to mental health services is a huge problem in Victoria – as it probably is in other states as well, but certainly Victoria – and the waiting list for people to access [it],” Pesutto told SYN Media’s Represent.

“Whether it’s a bed for more acute cases of mental health need, or even just those early stages where some prevention and early clinical assistance can actually keep someone out of the health system.”

Last month’s state budget saw $91 million committed to start work on three local mental health centres, plus more on the way.

The commitment comes as part of progress on recommendations made by the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.

Lifeline says its Western Melbourne centre aligns with these goals, ensuring support is only a call away – and sounds a little more like you.

If this story impacted you, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 – and one of its Western Melbourne volunteers may pick up your call.  In an emergency, always call Triple Zero (000).

Loughlin Patrick
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