HELP NOW: 'Retired' psychologists Roger Matheson and Paul Armitage established the free Central Coast Lifeline Psychology and Counselling Service at Wyoming.
HELP NOW: 'Retired' psychologists Roger Matheson and Paul Armitage established the free Central Coast Lifeline Psychology and Counselling Service at Wyoming. Katie Allen

Volunteers needed for mental health counselling lifeline

MOST people think of Lifeline as a telephone crisis helpline funded by sales from its op shops, unaware that face-to-face counselling is also available.

But the free Central Coast Lifeline Psychology and Counselling Service has been running at Wyoming for five years, providing ongoing support for people needing to change their lives.

Officially "retired", psychologists Paul Armitage and Roger Matheson are the backbone of the service.

"They are absolutely remarkable gentlemen who have created this service based on volunteer contribution," the service's new general manager, principal psychologist Andrew Webster said.

"Their incredible energy and concern for clients struggling to manage a diverse range of issues in their life, is a real exemplar of the commitment and value of older people to the community they belong to."

Both volunteers, as well as seeing clients, supervise newly graduated psychologists who, like intern doctors, require a two-year clinical placement to become fully registered.

"We supervise about 10 psychologists each year, so we can vicariously see far more clients and have also been able to produce a steady stream of new registered psychologists, so there's an enormous feeling of being able to do something meaningful and worthwhile," Paul said.

Having "ticked things off the bucket list" travelling for a year post-retirement, Paul arrived back on the Coast in 2013 eager to do something of value to the community.

He volunteered at Lifeline to work in the op shops or help collect furniture.

But, with the Coast population expanding faster than services, and often long waiting lists to see private psychologists, Lifeline saw a different use for Paul's skills.

DEALING WITH LIFE'S TRAUMAS

A registered psychologist since the early 1970s, Paul said Lifeline clients, like his own previously, were often people coping with a series of traumas in their lives, some dating back to childhoods of physical and mental abuse.

Alcohol and drugs, often turned to as crutches to cope with life, did not deal with those problems, and instead led to further issues including potentially family break-ups, job loss, homelessness, and a possible cycle of abuse.

Anger, loneliness, hopelessness, anxiety and depression were emotions often faced.

Paul said a lot of research had shown men tended not to handle accumulating stress as well as women, who were more willing to seek help both socially and professionally.

According to the Bureau of Statistics, 3128 people died due to intentional self-harm in 2017, 75 per cent of whom were male.

"It's often a domino effect, with redundancy perhaps leading to marriage breakdown, homelessness, isolation from friends and family, and a feeling of hopelessness...," Paul said.

Retirement, loss of a partner and poor health were often crisis points, particularly for men, with statistics showing that men aged older than 85 have the highest suicide rate in Australia.

Helping people to find meaning and purpose in life, to engage with society, make connections and adopt healthier lifestyles, including regular exercise, he said, led to good outcomes in all age-groups.

"That's where Men's Sheds are so incredibly useful," Paul said.

"The old adage of a healthy mind in a healthy body has a lot of truth to it."

Lifeline is currently seeking experienced psychologists and counsellors to join the volunteer team. If you are interested, phone Andrew Webster on 4320 7400. To arrange face-to-face counselling, phone (02) 4320 7400 or, for crisis help 24-hours, phone 13 11 14.

A text help service is also being trialled from 6-10pm on 0477 131 114.

*Roger Matheson shares his views on the importance of self-worth after retirement, men's mental health, anger management and bullying in the next edition.


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