The Canadian Mental Health Association PIN (People in Need) Crisis Line is beginning its next round of volunteer training Feb. 22 for community members with a desire to learn how to help others.
Located in Vernon, the Crisis Line training will involve 35 hours of instruction and supervised practice.
Guided by staff with many years of experience, volunteers participate in seminars and study self-awareness building exercises and practice scripted calls. Often involving plenty of coffee, cookies, and conversation, the learning happens in an active, collaborative environment.
Once training is complete, volunteers are ready to assess callers’ crises, provide emotional support, and connect callers with community services from an extensive, province-wide database.
Once these skills are developed, Crisis Line volunteers become a part of the Interior Crisis Line Network. In this role, they answer calls from one of three lines: the B.C. Interior’s general purpose Crisis Line, 1-888-353-CARE (2273); the provincial hotline for suicide assessment and intervention, 1-800-SUICIDE; or the province’s Mental Health Support information line, 310-6789.
On these calls, they provide free, anonymous, non-judgmental support to all community members in distress. For the mother of a suicidal son, a senior who suddenly finds themselves unable to pay rent, or an exhausted, self-described alcoholic, this service is a caring, easily accessible way to seek hopeful solutions. Callers generally deeply appreciate this, and many calls end with expressions of gratitude.
“It’s the most rewarding volunteering position I’ve ever had, said Kathy (last name withheld), a Crisis Line volunteer discussing her continued commitment to the line.
In addition to helping others, Crisis Line training also provides volunteers with many opportunities to improve themselves. Developing healthy boundaries, stress management, and clear thinking in crisis situations are all integral parts of the volunteer development process.
Another volunteer, Tom, said being at the Crisis Line improved his communication skills and his confidence in his ability to do the right thing.
“I’m especially glad that it taught me how to listen to the people in my life,” he said. “After a few months of volunteering at the Crisis Line I’ve learned that sometimes the best way I can help my loved ones is to shut up all my ideas of how to improve their situation until I’ve just given them a chance to talk.”
Beyond benefitting their personal lives, students and professionals in medicine, counseling, social work, and community support find their Crisis Line experience benefits their career path.
“Over time I’ve come to feel that people are trying hard to build good lives for themselves, and they generally seem to do a pretty good job at this given whatever they have to work with,” said Tom. “Unfortunately, every now and then, people get caught by one of those worse case scenarios we all know can happen. It’s like evil serendipity. Maybe someone’s husband passes away and they lose their job. Maybe an extremely stressful set of university exams trigger someone’s first episode of as-yet-undiagnosed clinical depression, and this leads to suicidal ideation.
“Whatever the cause, it doesn’t matter to me anymore how people come to be in crisis. When I’m working with a caller, I just have to figure out what’s going on for them now, and then work to help them to figure out how they can begin improving their lives from wherever they are.”
Facing a serious threat to what they love in their lives, it seems like callers often fall into analysis paralysis, he added.
“They can run out of solutions to their problems. It’s like the way someone stops moving if they get buried by an avalanche while skiing. Sure, anyone can dig themselves out of a little bit of snow, but if someone gets unexpectedly buried up to their head in the stuff, it can make it hard for them to even start digging themselves out.
“Likewise, when people’s troubles add up, sometimes they get overwhelmed. In these cases, it’s my role as a volunteer to figure out what they’re going through and to use my training to help get them get back on track. It’s not always easy, but I’ve been amazed at how much of a difference I can make in the lives of others with a relatively small investment of my own energy and application of the volunteer training.”
If you or someone you know might be interested in volunteering at the Crisis Line, training sessions run four times a year.
The next training session begins with an evening and two days of training Feb. 22 to 24 Volunteer applications and dates for training sessions later in the year can be found in the volunteering section of the PIN Crisis Line website, www.peopleinneed.ca.
If you’d like to know more before pursuing this, PIN staff invite you to call their administrative office at 250-545-8074.