Jess Marshall is a Lifeline Macarthur and Western Sydney crisis supporter who answers calls on 13 11 14.
She also does voluntary work, and is a member of our training team, managing the South Western Sydney Primary Health Network’s training courses, and supporting administration for DV Alert. The team offers training sessions in workplaces, talks at TAFEs, and tailored workshops for groups, councils and government departments.
Ask her about crisis support and she says, “I love every moment of it.
“We receive crisis phone calls and we work with help seekers to be able to support them through that crisis, to help them to be able to find the next steps in their day and provide referrals if necessary.” Jess studied psychology and has been in management roles, but she remembers when COVID happened she had a conversation with somebody at university who had worked for Lifeline in Parramatta and said how wonderful it was, how supportive people were.
“I thought, you know what, no better time than the present. Let’s give it a go. I got into the community training program and I was trained by my current colleagues to do crisis support. I started on the phone by myself in January 2021.”
What does she like about crisis support?
“I love feeling like I’ve helped someone. I really love being able to provide that support to someone who’s in crisis, who can’t see a way out of that crisis at that moment, and knowing that I’ve had a small impact on their life or on their day, to help them to be able to move forward.
“A crisis is different to everybody. It ranges from a lady really upset because she’d given a birthday card to somebody who didn’t say thank you - something quite minor for them - all the way to people who are feeling like they want to take their own lives.
“We get calls from young children who don’t know who to talk to; don’t know who they can reach out to and what support services are available. We get calls from men. And from women with post-natal depression or issues with pregnancy.
“Given that interest rates have risen again, we definitely get a lot of phone calls from people who are experiencing financial crisis, people who can’t feed themselves. So we make referrals to food banks or Vinnies, who do fuel support, and to our own financial counselling team.
“We get domestic violence calls and need to recognise, respond, refer: recognise the imminence of danger, make sure the caller is safe, and help with a plan to get them out of the situation.
“There are so many issues: people who have taken pills, wanting to know if they should write a letter, day-to-day stressors, trouble at work, a child having problems at school, people supporting others who have suicide ideation … it’s everything. People talking about their mental health in general and how far they have come on their journey. Some people call because that is their plan: Lifeline is what helps them get through their day.
“Sometimes we’re a stop-gap between psychologist or psychiatrist appointments.”
Calls are usually around 20 or 25 minutes long.
Jess likes to check in with people to see how they are feeling at the end of a call. Generally it’s better than at the beginning.
“It might only be marginally better; it might just be well enough to take on the day. Sometimes you wrap up a call with, ‘What is manageable for you in the next 30 minutes? Will you be able to call again in 30 minutes? Some people are so overwhelmed they can’t even structure the next five minutes, let alone the next day.
“After a shift I feel good. I feel like I’ve made a difference, and that I’ve helped someone. It’s something I find is really rewarding.”
Give it a go
Jess says Lifeline needs more crisis support volunteers. “One hundred per cent we do. And definitely in Macarthur.”
Jess wanted to join Lifeline’s training team because of the quality of the crisis supporter workplace training. “I felt so supported and there were so many opportunities to practise and learn new skills. The framework we use is even useful in daily life for having conversations with people.
“If you’re wanting to volunteer, if you are thinking about it, give it a go because it’s a really rewarding opportunity. You get a great amount of training. Not only that, there’s a huge focus on self-care as well. So not only are you helping other people, but you’re also learning how to care for yourself better. And that’s part of the training.”