Paper presented at the National Suicide Prevention Conference, 24-26 July 2013, Melbourne, Australia.
Telephone counsellors (TCs) provide front line mental health support to callers in crisis. TCs often support callers with suicidal thoughts, depression and anxiety, and the caller's experience of the call will influence whether they will seek help from a helpline in the future. Despite their important role, little information on TCs' mental health and help-seeking behaviours exists - a structured literature search returned 2 papers. This paper presents the results of a study that answered three research questions: 1. Do telephone counsellors experience symptoms of suicidal ideation, depression and anxiety? 2. Do telephone counsellors intend to seek help for these symptoms? 3. Do service provision intentions vary for telephone counsellors experiencing different levels of symptoms? A representative sample of 124 Lifeline Telephone Crisis Supporters (TCSs) from across Australia took part in the study. Results suggest that help-negation (reluctance to seek help as distress levels increase) occurs among TCSs who are exposed to suicidal, depressed and anxious callers, and impacts both personal wellbeing and TCSs intention to use recommended skills with callers. The impact of exposure to callers in crisis is an occupational hazard for all telephone counsellors in the sector. Implications for TC training, preparation, supervision, and support are discussed.