Mum volunteers for Lifeline after losing daughter to suicide

Liz Walker (Carramar). Photo: Martin Kennealey
Liz Walker (Carramar). Photo: Martin Kennealey

LIFELINE volunteer Liz Walker hopes her four hours a week help people in crisis find hope.

The Carramar resident started volunteering with the helpline more than seven years ago, motivated by the loss of her daughter Jackie to suicide.

Every week she does a four-hour shift at the crisis call centre in Perth and said every caller was different.

“A lot of calls we get are a cry for help,” she said.

“People go down this big black hole and they can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.

“Often we say we are fine but we are not really fine – underneath we are falling apart.

“A tremendous amount of people phone Lifeline because it’s anonymous.

“It’s so much easier to talk to someone like that rather than a family member because that’s too personal.

“An incredible amount of men call too.”

Mrs Walker said sometimes calls were heartbreaking and issues could include domestic violence, mental health, relationships and sexual orientation.

“We hear them out, we validate their feelings, we try to make a safe plan for those people,” she said.

“The biggest thing is to learn how to cope – if you are really down, then go and do something; don’t sit in a darkened room.

“Some people will call and say ‘I’m not in crisis but can I just talk?’ and we will say ‘of course’.”

Her 21-year-old daughter died in Zimbabwe 24 years ago and Mrs Walker said she always felt if there had been a Lifeline for her to call, things might have been different.

“Her death was unusual; she never made any mention of suicide,” she said.

Mrs Walker said suicide affected everyone in the family, although her younger children and counselling helped keep them going.

“It destroys your family – they don’t know what to do anymore,” she said.

“For the first three months you live in this vacuum before you try to come to terms with it.”

Jackie was born in Australia before the family moved back to Zimbabwe when she was two and lived most of her life there.

“She did photographic safaris – she loved the bush and the animals,” her mother said.

Mrs Walker and her husband moved to Australia in December 2007, and their second daughter lives here with her family while their son remains in Zimbabwe with his.

She also volunteers with Amana Living at the day centre in Wanneroo, which stemmed from her involvement in a City of Wanneroo program to take elderly people on outings.

Another volunteer role she has enjoyed for several years is at the gallery in Wanneroo Library and Cultural Centre, where she helps while exhibitions are on show.

“Especially when you have retired, I think it’s very good to volunteer,” Mrs Walker said.

“Australia quite honestly lives on volunteers – there’s so many things that you can do.”

Lifeline seeks to increase call centre volunteers

LIZ Walker is one of 192 Lifeline WA call centre volunteers who give their time to support people in their time of need.

Before they answer their first call, each volunteer must go through a thorough recruitment process to ensure they have the attributes needed to be a crisis supporter.

Those who are successful then do more than 170 hours of specialised training in their first year to become an accredited crisis supporter.

The training features in-person and online learning, supervised practical opportunities, a probationary period and assessments, and ongoing professional development is mandatory once accredited.

Ms Walker said although the work was challenging, helping people in crisis was rewarding.

“It can be very emotional and distressing hearing so many people in such mental pain,” she said.

“But when they feel that they have been heard and you hear the hope returning in their voices it is very rewarding.

“Lifeline WA does such vital and important work reaching out to thousands of people in their time of need.”

Lifeline WA chief executive Lorna MacGregor said volunteers were the lifeblood of the organisation and it wouldn’t be able to operate without them.

“Being there for Australians in crisis is a serious responsibility and Lifeline WA volunteers are rigorously trained to prepare for the task,” she said.

“Not everyone can be a volunteer so National Volunteer Week is the perfect opportunity to acknowledge and thank these people for their dedication and commitment.”

Ms MacGregor said Lifeline WA planned to increase the number of volunteers by 175 over the next financial year, so more calls could be answered and more lives could be saved.

The next crisis support workforce information session will run in July.

Call Lifeline’s 24/7 telephone crisis support service on 13 11 14.