A prayer before each call
Caroline O’Shannassy has no idea how many thousands of lives she may have saved, but what she does know is God has had a hand in every one of them.
Each time the phone rings, she takes a deep breath and says a little prayer before asking “how may I help you”.
Caroline is a volunteer for Lifeline and dedicates her life to saving other people.
She is one of an army of angels who answer the 3500 daily calls and texts currently received by the service, the largest number in the charity’s 60-year history.
Eight people take their life every day in Australia and the retired teacher knows she is providing a ray of light to those in their darkest moments.
No stranger to grief, the parishioner of Terrigal’s Star of the Sea Parish said losing two of her four daughters gave her a deeper understanding of where people in crisis are coming from.
“The grief and life experiences I’ve been through give me empathy for those on the other end of the phone,” she said.
“I was looking for something and from the moment I attended a Lifeline information night I knew I’d found exactly what I wanted to do, it’s my vocation … I just like helping people; everybody has challenging times in their life which I can identify with.
“I think it makes it easier being a woman of faith, sometimes I feel myself silently praying for the person at the other end of the line.
“And not surprisingly it’s the people of faith who ring Lifeline who say it’s what keeps them going when they are in crisis.”
After 10 years volunteering with Lifeline, Caroline is in no doubt people want to live.
She said they don’t want to end their life – they just want to end the suffering.
“Making that call is a very difficult step, some people are having suicidal thoughts and they are very scared but the fact they have picked up the phone and are talking to someone is a little indication they are clinging to life,” she said.
“Mental health is still stigmatised to an extent. It’s improved greatly, but I still hear people say that if they had something like cancer they’d get more empathy.” She knows there’s no guarantee of the long-term outcome for each caller but knowing she has kept them safe for that day is reward enough.
“Sometimes I do wonder if help got there in time but I also know that at the end of my shift I have to walk out the door and leave it all behind,” she smiled.
“We are reminded about self-care. You can answer 12-15 calls a shift which can be mentally very draining so you have to change your mindset, go for a walk, and find ways to turn off … if you can’t leave it behind, you’re no good to anyone – you burn out.
“I feel so blessed these wonderful people share this part of their life with me. God has gifted me with the skills to deal with it and for that, I feel very blessed.
“I often think I get so much more out of doing this than I give, I have learnt just how brave and courageous these people are living with such difficulties in their life.
“I consider my work with Lifeline an honour and a privilege and couldn’t imagine my life without it.”
If you are interested in finding out more about volunteering with Lifeline go to https://www.lifeline.org.au/get-involved/volunteer-as-a-crisis-supporter/#learn-more