VITAL SERVICE: Lifeline volunteer Dinah Robinson, Northern Rivers manager Niall Mulligan, volunteer Marion Andrew and CEO Jane Hayden.
VITAL SERVICE: Lifeline volunteer Dinah Robinson, Northern Rivers manager Niall Mulligan, volunteer Marion Andrew and CEO Jane Hayden. Andy Parks

Lifeline volunteers acknowledged by chief executive

EVERY year Lifeline takes about 750,000 calls from Australians in distress.

CEO Jane Hayden estimates about 5% of those calls are from people who are at an "imminent or significant risk", or in the process of committing suicide.

The organisation has about 11,000 volunteers across the country, either working in the 24-hour call centres or in their extensive network of op shops, which is their main source of funding.

Ms Hayden was in Lismore on Wednesday to visit some of the volunteers and Northern Rivers manager Niall Mulligan.

It is Lifeline Australia's 50th anniversary this year, and the 30th anniversary of the service in the Northern Rivers.

"We are really a pathway to other services for people who are on a journey of deep personal crisis," Ms Hayden said.

She said suicide was the most common form of death for men under the age of 44 and women under 34.

The biggest challenge for Lifeline is being able to answer all of the calls that come in.

In the Northern Rivers they have 73 telephone volunteers who work on a roster, supplemented by paid staff who work the overnight shifts which is when people are often at their lowest.

Over the past three years they have had an increase in the number of calls answered by 40%. Ms Hayden said that was down to technical improvements, training improvements and possibly more awareness in the community about mental health issues.

"We are like a fourth emergency service; there's the fire, ambulance and police services and then there's us," Mr Mulligan said.

He said volunteers were the lifeblood of the organisation and that although it could often be a challenging experience, many people also found it very rewarding.

Lifeline provides 100 hours of training in the first year for new volunteers and many people said it was life-changing.



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