WHEN Kathy Prior picks up the phone, she doesn’t know what awaits at the other end of the line.
But one thing is guaranteed: the Belmont North woman will be listening.
Mrs Prior is one of Lifeline Hunter Central Coast’s hard-working volunteers – all of whom carry out the thankless task of being a sympathetic ear to those in their darkest moments.
It’s a tough job, Mrs Prior explained, but one that has taught her as much about herself as the people around her.
“It can be draining,” she admitted.
“[But] it’s so essential. When people are in crisis, they are often in a position where they’ve been judged. They’ve exhausted their families and friends. They have no one else to turn to.”
Mrs Prior has worked as a volunteer counsellor with Lifeline for nine years, after a successful career as a midwife and later a teacher-librarian.
She agreed that the common denominator between her three professions had been working with people.
But she also said learning to genuinely empathise with another human was something that couldn’t be taught.
“The biggest thing we can do is empathise with someone,” Mrs Prior said.
“And that’s difficult to do – it requires active listening. What we do is we listen very carefully to what the caller is saying and we reflect what they’re saying, trying to unravel some layers.
“When feelings are validated, when people know they are being heard, that can empower them.”
Lifeline’s goal is to break down the stigma surrounding mental health by using a community-based approach to suicide prevention.
The charity estimates there are more than 65,000 suicide attempts in Australia every year, with suicide rates for men three times higher than that of women.
According to the latest statistics, the suicide rate is 12.6 per 100,000 Australians – the highest rate in at least a decade.
Mrs Prior sees Lifeline as invaluable.
“I’m proud of Lifeline,” she said.
“It’s a wonderful organisation that does so much good in the community, and they treat their volunteers really well – there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not thanked.”
When the day is done, Mrs Prior said the most rewarding part had been the people and listening to what they have to say.
“It’s the most amazing feeling when you get the trust of a caller,” she said.
“Some of the people that ring up haven’t talked to another human being in a very long time. It’s humbling to realise you’ve made a difference to someone else.”