Jackie (not her real name) grew up in Vernon. It’s also where she decided to go to college.
She decided to study Human Services and began her two-year program last fall having been fascinated with psychology and mental health.
After completing a year of her studies, Jackie found out about the volunteer program at Vernon’s crisis hotline — one of five call centres in the interior. She thought it may be a good way to get her “foot in the door” and to get some hands-on experience and practice emotional support.
“Teachers suggested it as a good way to start in the field,” said Jackie. “You know about or hear about the crisis line but you never really think about it being in your own hometown.”
The average volunteer works once a week for about four hours, but they never go in untrained first. It takes about 30 hours of training to be qualified to handle calls on your own — this includes in-class learning, observing calls and role-playing.
“A lot of that is classroom time and then we have some practical time and we make sure our volunteers are confident and comfortable before they take calls on all three lines,” said program coordinator Paula Guidi. “We answer the interior crisis line, we answer 310-mental-health and we answer 1-800-suicide and the last two are both provincial numbers.”
Jackie said she maintains perspective by practising self-care — which is encouraged among the volunteers who staff the three CMHA operated distress lines, (1-888-353-CARE), Mental Health Support Line, and 1-800-SUICIDE. Crisis line volunteers respond to all three.
“We have a great support staff available if you hang up and don’t feel great after a call,” Jackie explained. “But I’ve never taken it home with me.”
Though Jackie is a student, Guidi said that they have volunteers from “all walks of life” including professionals, students and community members who just want to help by giving back to their community. All volunteers and callers remain anonymous.
“It’s super rewarding and even though it seems scary, it’s not that scary because you’ve got so much support,” Jackie added. “A lot of people don’t think they can handle it but I think most people can handle more than they think.”
Jackie is currently one of 30 volunteers working with the crisis line but Guidi said they are looking for about 12 more for the fall. Training begins in October. Guidi said that it’s important that people know how important this work is as they need volunteers 24 hours a day all 365 days a year.
“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for a Crisis Line Worker willing to pick up the phone at 2 a.m. when I didn’t’ think I was worth it,” said one Crisis Line caller who wishes to remain anonymous.“Just by being there, they reminded me that I was.”
Guidi said that even when a caller doesn’t say a word, being someone there to listen when they are ready is what the call line was designed for. Jackie agreed. She affirms that the experience she has gained through the program has been irreplaceable; that even though the reason she volunteered was for, as she puts it, a selfish, career-minded purpose, she found her true passion in knowing she was helping people and making a positive difference in her community.
“When you hear them calm down or hear them say, ‘I feel so much better now that I’ve gotten that out’, it’s just instantly rewarding,” said Jackie. “There aren’t too many times when you get off the phone and think that person didn’t feel better.”
Editor’s Note: Jackie’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity of those associated with the program.
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