Through a year of crises Australia reaches for Lifeline like never before

24 Feb 2021

As the heat and blazes of last summer subsided, their scars remained on the earth and within devastated communities. It was at this point as COVID-19 surfaced as a serious threat to the lives and livelihoods of millions around the globe, that our CEO Davina Rooney spoke to John Brogden AM, Chair of Lifeline and CEO of Landcom, to talk about the response to crises. Here – almost 12 months on – we meet with John again to follow up the work of both organisations.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a lifeline as, “something regarded as indispensable for the maintaining or protection of life”. Every 30 seconds, an Australian contacts Lifeline for help. Prior to the bushfires that commenced in 2019 the charity, Australia’s best-known suicide and crisis line, was already an indispensable resource for those needing to talk, receiving around 2500 calls a day.

Today, post-fires but during recovery and a pandemic, Lifeline receives around 3000 calls a day, peaking at over 3300, a raw reminder that though the flames are out, the aftermath of the Black Summer fires lingers for individuals, families and communities.

“Here we are, 15 months after the fires got bad in December 2019, still receiving 200-300 calls each day from bushfire affected communities. This demonstrates that for all those impacted, trauma comes at different times and in different ways,” says John.

While COVID-19 added to the spike in people reaching out, the tenor of pandemic related calls shifted when Australia’s situation eased in comparison to other nations. JobKeeper and the lifting of strict lockdowns in some parts of the country also alleviated fears and anxieties of the physical threat of the pandemic.

At the same time, far reaching public mental health campaigns fostered a collective willingness to talk, a broader understanding that it’s ok to ask for help and delivered some unexpected but welcomed outcomes.

“At Lifeline we don’t like to set records when it comes to calls, because the more records we set means that more people are distressed. But in NSW during the pandemic up to November, suicides dropped by 5%, and that’s very counter-intuitive because most people think that the more calls Lifeline gets the more suicides will occur, but the exact opposite happened,” he says.

John hopes this is a watershed for mental health in Australia, “We want this to be that moment where people decided, ‘I’m going to put my hand up because I do need help. I’m going to call Lifeline, contact my GP or a psychologist, and I’m going to get help.’”

John added that we can’t just accept the intensity of the bushfires and heat as the new normal, particularly for populated areas, and do nothing. The resilience of the built environment – from social infrastructure, to communities, workplaces and our homes – must be scrutinised.

“All Landcom projects are assessed for climate risk and mitigation and last year we published the Cooling the Commons research paper with WSU and UTS to create the resources needed to help design urban settings that maximise cooling opportunities and enhance liveability,” he explains.

This can be seen on the ground in Landcom developments too, with an offering of $15,000 sustainability rebates at their Macarthur Heights project to encourage innovation, sustainability and energy efficiency in new homes.

“These incentivised upgrades have long term benefits including $1300 saving per year in reduced running costs. Residents are telling us the rebates have enabled them to ensure their homes are extremely efficient and that the money saved is helping them do early landscaping works too,” John shares.

As a valued GBCA member and partner, Landcom recognises that in times of crisis the places we live can also be our lifeboat and this is why it’s essential they are future-ready, healthy and responsive to the climate challenge, without adding to existing problems.

We thank Landcom for its leadership and support as a Future Homes Supporting Partner and a Future Focus Silver Partner. For ways you can stay healthy and support those around you during the coronavirus pandemic, see these resources from Lifeline. You can also read Lifeline’s toolkit on coping with loss and change after a bushfire here, or to talk to someone, call 13 11 14.