<< Return to InPsych August 2004 

InPsych production editor Steven Gregor spoke with Barbara Hocking of SANE Australia, Wendy Reid of Kids Help Line, and Dawn Smith of Lifeline, for this special “question and answer” article to ascertain how the three organisations are helping young Australians.

Australian telephone and web-based counselling services are at their most popular. One reason for the growth in these services is no doubt because of the immediate, user–friendly and confidential service they offer; another reason attributed to the growth of these services is the difficulty many people, and young people in particular, find in obtaining treatment for a mental illness through traditional avenues.

According to Barbara Hocking, Executive Director of SANE Australia, “It is unacceptable that so many callers experience difficulty (via other avenues) in getting the treatment they need, particularly finding effective treatment for depression. There is also an appalling Australia-wide shortage of accommodation, rehabilitation and mutual support … people (suffering from mental illness) really are having a tough time.

“Less than eight per cent of government health spending is directed at mental health services, yet mental illness accounts for around 20 per cent of the burden on Australian’s health.”

SANE Australia recently released a report on its national mental illness help line.  “The number of calls to the help line has nearly doubled in the past two years. We are often the first place people call,” says Barbara. “30 per cent of callers had not yet seen a doctor or been given a diagnosis, and 40 per cent of callers were not receiving any medical treatment or support.”  In 2003, 22.5 per cent of calls to the SANE Helpline were for depression, almost 21 per cent were for schizophrenia, 12.5 per cent were for bipolar disorder, 8.5 per cent were for anxiety disorders, 26 per cent were undiagnosed, while the remaining calls were for issues including borderline personality disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and autism.

The demand for this method of counselling is so great that the SANE Helpline, the service offered by SANE Australia, received more than 15,000 calls in 2003 – up from 8560 calls in 2001.  Kids Help Line, one of Australia’s most popular telephone and web–based counselling services, recorded 1.1 million attempts by young people seeking to speak with a counsellor in 2003, up from 1.053 million attempts in 2002.  Also, in 2003 Lifeline Australia reported a year of significant growth; the number of Lifeline centres increased by 20 per cent, 30,000 more calls were answered, additional services were implemented and thousands of new volunteers were trained.

SANE Helpline 2004 facts

  • Depression and other mood disorders were the most common diagnoses given by callers, followed by schizophrenia and anxiety disorders.
  • The most common reason for calling was difficulty in finding treatment.
  • Other reasons for calling included problems in finding accommodation, rehabilitation and support for family or other carers.
  • Calls were received from people affected by mental illness and from carers in equal numbers.
  • 36 per cent of calls were from rural and remote areas – double the proportion in 2001, reflecting the greater difficulty in accessing treatment and support outside metropolitan areas.


Question and answer

1. What is your organisation and how does it help adolescents in particular?
SANE: The SANE Helpline is an Australia–wide freecall 1800 service providing information about mental illness and referral to local support. It operates during business hours (EST). The SANE Helpline Online is accessible 24 hours through either SANE’s youth website www.itsallright.org, or the main website www.sane.org. All queries are confidential.

Kids Help Line: Kids Help Line provides a non-judgmental, confidential service where no problem is too small, too embarrassing or too “out of bounds” to talk about.  Counsellors assist each caller to clarify the caller’s concerns, develop options and strategies for positive change and to identify and understand the consequences of particular courses of action.  Callers are encouraged to believe in themselves and to recognise their personal strengths.

Lifeline: Lifeline Australia is the national body which represents the 42 Lifeline Centres around Australia, half of which are based in rural and regional areas. Lifeline Australia accredits Centres, manages the 13 telephone systems and devises and implements national policies and programs. Lifeline Centres provide a 24 hour  telephone counselling service operated by trained volunteers.
Adolescents can call Lifeline at any time and have their story listened to and options explored confidentially and without leaving their home. Some Lifeline Centres offer specific youth based services providing face-to-face counselling and a variety of personal development group work programs.

Kids Help Line telephone contacts as a percentage of total calls, 2001-2003

2. Are staff trained?  If so, what is the training?

SANE: Members of the Helpline team receive rigorous training before taking calls, as well as attending regular debriefing sessions and training events involving a range of other agencies.

Kids Help Line: Kids Help Line is staffed by over 100 paid, professionally trained and supervised counsellors who work out of the contact centre in Brisbane.  Over 90 per cent have tertiary qualifications in psychology, social work or related disciplines. All new counsellors undergo Kids Help Line’s five-day Skills-Based Training Course.  Probationary counsellors then complete 250 paid hours on the telephone plus further training across specialist areas such as mental health assessment, suicide intervention, case management, and responding to young people who self injure.

Lifeline: All telephone counsellors undergo approximately 50-80 hours of training over four months, with an additional supervised apprenticeship of 10-25 hours.  Lifeline is a Registered Training Organisation and counsellors may undertake a Certificate 4 in Telephone Counselling.

3. Why are so many young Australian’s turning to help lines for assistance?

SANE: Help lines provide an anonymous way to seek information and advice. Callers appreciate the easy access to accurate, up-to-date information about mental illness and its treatment that help lines like the SANE Helpline provide.

Kids Help Line: Young people value the anonymity and confidentiality offered by telephone and online modalities, and, like adults, feel it is important to have a sense of control when seeking help. Frequently young people have no knowledge of services, or there are no appropriate services in the young person’s area (especially in regional and remote areas).  Young people often feel embarrassed about attending face-to-face services, or fear decision-making may be taken out of their hands.

Lifeline: In 2002/2003, only eight per cent of Lifeline’s callers were under the age of 25, with women more than twice as likely to call as men. 50 per cent of Lifeline’s callers were aged 25-44 years. Lifeline has a task to attract those who fall in the gap between the target group of Kids Help Line and Lifeline (15-25 year olds).

4. Are callers using your organisation as their first “port of call” for assistance?

SANE: In 2003, 30 per cent of the calls to SANE Helpline concerned undiagnosed illness. A major responsibility for the Helpline therefore is to encourage callers to seek assessment, diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Kids Help Line: Many young people access Kids Help Line after attempts to talk to others have failed and their issues have been ignored, minimalised, or trivialised.  Others contact before they talk to parents, teachers or other adults. Others have no one else to turn to.

Approximately 15 per cent of callers are referred to other agencies, mainly for child protection, emergency accommodation, pregnancy and contraceptive help, legal assistance, and drug or alcohol counselling. Counsellors use a computerised referral database containing details on approximately 8000 agencies around Australia that provide services to children and young people.  It allows callers to be referred to services in their own locality (if available), either by providing contact information or via a direct, three-way phone link.

Written protocols with statutory child protection and mental health agencies in each state and territory assist in a seamless referral for children and young people experiencing these problems.

Lifeline: Many callers use Lifeline as a “first port of call”.   Many phone the service frequently.  Some call periodically during a limited crisis.  Others rely on the service as a permanent feature of their support network.

Lifeline facts

  • Lifeline receives more than 1200 calls per day.
  • At any given time, 40–60 trained volunteer counsellors are available for calls.
  • Each year, Lifeline trains 2000 new volunteer counsellors.
  • 40 of Lifeline’s 42 Centres have recently been trained by BeyondBlue to deliver “Depression Awareness” sessions for volunteers.
  • Lifeline is a registered training organisation and can offer nationally recognised qualifications for its training courses.
  • Lifeline has 10,000 volunteer telephone counsellors, over 4500 of these give more than 450,000 hours of their time every year.


5. What are the most common issues raised by young callers?

SANE: Callers seek information about mental illness and its treatment. Young callers are also interested to find out about programs for them if a parent, brother or sister has a mental illness.

Kids Helpline: The main issues young people contact Kids Help Line varies according to age, gender and modality used (telephone or online). However, the graph (on the previous page) indicates key issues for telephone contacts.

Lifeline: Nearly half of all Lifeline counselling calls were about family issues. Mental health and loneliness were other major themes.

6. Are young people from country Australia big users of your organisation?

SANE: Increasingly, young people contact SANE Helpline from regional and rural areas, reflecting the difficulty far too many people experience in accessing mental health services and support in these areas. Help lines and websites therefore fulfil a critical role for this group.

Kids Help Line: The proportion of calls to Kids Help Line from young people residing in rural and remote Australia has been increasing in recent years and increased from 42 per cent to 50 per cent of the 523,825 calls that were answered in 2003.

Lifeline: One in three calls are from rural and regional areas. Lifeline is currently undertaking research into its data under a project funded by the Office of Rural Health.  The first of these “profiles” will be distributed in August. Organisations or individuals wishing to be on the mailing  list should email national@lifeline.org.au.

For more information on Kids Help Line, please visit www.kidshelp.com.au; for more information on SANE Australia, please visit www.sane.org; and for more information on Lifeline, please visit www.lifeline.org.au.