When Alyssa Christmas hangs up the phone after a call has come in to the Vernon Crisis Line she’s usually left feeling “pretty good.”
“I know I was there when someone needed me to be,” she explained.
“We like to say that, we don’t just save lives, we change them.”
And while she can never be completely sure if her words have helped, Christmas focuses less on what could go wrong and more on offering “a kind, listening ear” when it’s needed most.
One resident, who requested anonymity, said sometimes, that’s all it takes.
“If it weren’t for the Crisis Line being there to take my call at 2 a.m., I wouldn’t be here,”the one-time caller said.
Christmas said she maintains perspective by practicing “self-care” and not “taking her work home” with her — both of which are encouraged among the volunteers who staff the three CMHA operated distress lines, (1-888-353-CARE), Mental Health Support Line, and 1-800-SUICIDE.
The calls can be emotionally demanding, but Christmas, who is also program support manager for the Canadian Mental Health Association Vernon’s Crisis Line and Good Morning program, says it leaves you feeling as though you’ve made a difference.
That’s why she’s hoping a few “big-hearted” people will come forward and answer her call — the one for volunteers.
Currently, Christmas said the organization has 25 active volunteers to cover 144 hours per week.
“We have more people calling and less people to take the calls,” she said. “I’m hoping for about 10 new volunteers in our May training.”
In 2017, the crisis line answered 5,708 calls — up from 5,210 calls in 2016. Christmas attributes the increase in calls to better advertising of the Crisis Line and a general shift in attitude about mental health.
“I would like to think there is less stigma around mental health now, and that people are feeling more comfortable reaching out if they need to,” she said.
She says change of season typically leads to a spike in calls, but that is “pretty consistent.”
“We usually see more calls around Christmas, when people might be feeling more stress or are maybe having a difficult time. We also see more calls in early January when the days are shorter — but we have a steady baseline throughout the year.”
Christmas says people call for a variety of reasons — callers aren’t always suicidal or beset by “unfixable crises.”
Emotional support, crisis intervention, depression, isolation, addiction concerns, and seniors issues, she said, are just a few of those concerns that prompt people to seek out the crisis line.
“We also have people call that are concerned for a friend, family member or coworker.”
One in three calls, she said, are people reaching out for support to self-manage their mental health concerns rather than escalating and requiring more “intrusive interventions.”
Volunteers undergo training in two stages— a classroom setting, and in a one-on-one environment, which includes comprehensive practice and review of procedures and policy before volunteers begin answering calls.
Anyone interested in volunteering must be over 18 and is asked to fill out an application online at http://www.peopleinneed.ca/volunteering/
The next training dates are May 7, 10, 14, 17 and 24 from 4 – 8 p.m. and May 26 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. A second training session will be offered in October.