One of the things I really like about my job is that on any given day there are so many possible subjects that I might find myself talking about. The depth and variety of programming at Klinic and SERC MB (Sexuality Education Resource Centre) is both overwhelming and deeply gratifying. It is astounding to me how many lives these two organizations touch.
People are often surprised when I tell them that there are Klinic services in Brandon. Klinic actually has many programs that operate throughout Manitoba, including our multiple crisis line services, one of which is the Manitoba Farm, Rural and Northern Support Service. This service is described on the website as:
Manitoba Farm, Rural & Northern Support Services (The ‘Support Line’) provides telephone and on-line counselling & support to farmers, rural and northern Manitobans. We also offer public education, a volunteer training program, and a monthly Suicide Bereavement Support group. The ‘Support Line’ houses a Rural Resource Centre with books, videos and articles related to rural, northern, indigenous, and agricultural mental health. http://www.supportline.ca/.
As I mentioned in my last post I had the opportunity to spend a half day in the room with the support line staff and volunteers recently, and I am thankful for the opportunity. Though I have had several visits to our Brandon site over the last year spending this time in the room gives me a great view of the work. One of the first things that became really evident to me is the critical role that volunteers play in managing the diverse and plentiful caller group (just over 36,000 calls to date in 2015). Volunteers complete 3 months of training and several listening shifts before taking their first call, and they always have a staff member available for support when working (often 2).
MFRNSS shares the Crisis Line and Manitoba Suicide Line with Winnipeg and also offer the ‘specialized service’ of the MFRNSS. Those who have farm, rural and/or northern lived experience can answer calls on these lines. Our on-line emotional support line (the Chat Line) is answered by all. The staff and volunteers talk about how important this is and how often they are asked by callers if they have this background, which is very helpful in assuring callers they can relate to their experience. The day I was in the room there were 2 volunteers (Brent and Glen), one staff (Travis), and the Manager for this service, Janet. Both Brent and Glen offered me a great deal of information on why and how they came to be a volunteer in this program, however, the common theme was, they knew what it was like to live a rural life, and they wanted to give back to their community. Watching our volunteers and staff engage with callers was truly a highlight of my work so far. The callers who I got to witness receiving support included two with emerging health issues, such as a recent HIV diagnosis, who felt they had no other supports to draw on.
It was a Friday AM and not too busy thankfully, so I could ask lots of questions! When there are at least 3 people staffing the line it also accepts overflow calls from our main Crisis and Manitoba Suicide Line program in Winnipeg, which is one of the reasons we often call it one Crisis Program, with Two Sites. Here are some of the things I learned talking with team members during my visit:
- There is significant coordination happening all of the time between Winnipeg and Brandon to support this model- and it appears to create a very seamless system for the users
- The types of calls that come in are varied in nature but there are themes, often around relationship issues, work stress (particularly on the farm at certain times), financial stress and isolation issues
- Help-seeking behaviour is low among farm families and the team in Brandon has spent many years building connections and relationships to get their name out there- and our changing world is making this harder (e.g. less direct networking opportunities such as trade shows)
- Technology is increasingly playing a huge role in how we work, from online resources to chat capabilities, and this brings both strengths and challenges. For example the newly launched chatting service is a great resource but takes more time and resources to manage (therefore it is currently only offered during limited hours)
- Where possible we need to ensure that the staff has gender diversity to assist callers who may feel uncomfortable sharing with someone not of their gender
I was struck by many things that the volunteers said during my time there; however, in particular one thing harkened back to my previous post and the importance of presence, as Glen shared, “Even sometimes if you do not feel you made a strong connection, you were there.” This also reminded me of something else that happened this week. Our Clinical Director, Mary Jo, shared with me that she had a voicemail message from a young man who said he spoke recently with one of our volunteers on the Manitoba Suicide Line (answered in both Winnipeg and Brandon). He said the volunteer was extremely helpful to him and that “He saved my life tonight.”
I wondered how many times our staff and volunteers do that in a day or week and do not even know- and so thank you again to these people, for showing up, and doing this very hard and important work.
Coming soon- part two on the crisis lines, the Winnipeg room.