Former Lifeline operator reveals insights into mental health
Former Lifeline operator reveals insights into mental health Supplied

"Suicide is the most preventable cause of death"

LONELINESS is often the thing that triggers a call to a phone support service, former Lifeline operator Susan Griffiths said yesterday.

"A lot of elderly people that are lonely and have got no one or are very isolated would call us," she said.

"It might not be as big of a crisis as someone having suicidal thoughts, but having that conversation with them about their day, for a lonely elderly person, those chats can dramatically help with their mental health."

For the past five years, Ms Griffiths provided support to countless Australians, young and old, as a volunteer phone operator.

"Loss and grief was a big part of our caller issues, be it loss of a loved one, loss of a job, loss of a pet, the breakdown of a marriage," she said.

"Within those calls sometimes people were suicidal. About 20 per cent of those callers spoke directly about suicide and sometimes those thoughts were imminent."

Ms Griffiths left Lifeline this year to become an educator in suicide prevention with the goal of teaching older generations crucial skills to discuss and cope with mental health problems.

"It's the most preventable cause of death," she said.

"We know people don't have those thoughts 24/7 so if they can get the right support to get them through the worst of it, more often than not they can continue a fulfilling life.

"I recently completed a number of workshops for men's sheds, been talking to older guys about issues relevant to their lives; mates who have died, wives lost to terminal illness and so on."

Ms Griffiths said men whose wives had died were often at a greater risk of developing mental health problems.

"We're talking about a generation where blokes are the breadwinner and then when they retire they question what else is there to do," she said.

"They feel like, 'what's the point, no one cares and life's not worth living'. That's why men's sheds have been so successful, because they give them purpose."

Ms Griffiths said that in the days following these workshops she received positive feedback.

"The blokes from the men's sheds started calling me and telling me that they had already used those skills, be it for themselves or when talking to a mate," she said.

"A lot of people don't know what to say when faced with this situation. They're scared they might make it worse, so don't say anything. But once people know how to recognise the signs, how to respond and to refer them on to somebody who is trained the more chance we have of slowing this down."


What happens when you call Lifeline?

Callers will hear a brief recorded message before being connected to an anonymous operator. They will often open the conversation with "Hi this is Lifeline, how can we help you?" The phone call is not timed so the conversation will go for as long as needed.

Lifeline Australia 13 11 14 (available 24 hours)

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