ACT News


Hard times, tough calls: Lifeline in the thick of it

Canberrans with money worries are swamping the city's leading suicide counselling service.

Lifeline Canberra will report a surge in distress calls of 30 per cent - to 26,000 - in its 2012-13 annual report due later this month.

But month-on-month figures are even more alarming, with the service's veteran chief executive, Mike Zissler, saying the number of people turning to Lifeline has grown by 41 per cent since August last year.

Mr Zissler said he and his workforce were talking to more and more callers whose problems had money at their root.

''Clearly, there are a lot more people out there needing to call Lifeline and increasingly [they are] people who are under pressure in their financial circumstances,'' Mr Zissler said on Monday.

He believed it was small business people who were being hit hardest.


''This country is made up of small businesses, mum-and-dad businesses and they're going against the wall,'' Mr Zissler said. ''The number of bankruptcies are up, the number of businesses that are failing is up and that leads to relationship problems; particularly, men who don't deal well with relationship break-ups are ringing Lifeline and saying they've had enough of the world.''

Mr Zissler, who often helps out on the phones, cited a typical case of a Canberra man caught in deepening financial strife.

''I spoke to a man on the phone last week who was about to have his car repossessed,'' Mr Zissler said. ''Without that car, he can't work.

''I said that he should talk to the Salvos who can help him; if nothing else they'll talk to the people [repossessing the car] and help him maybe refinance it so he can keep his car and keep his job … there is a vicious circle that people get themselves stuck in.''

Mr Zissler said he was pessimistic for the prospects of Canberra's small business people in the wake of the election, regardless of the outcome.

''While Australia goes through these changes, I think there will be more and more people, particularly in those family-run businesses and organisations, that are really struggling,'' he said.

''Quite frankly, I don't see an awful lot from either [major] party to help those organisations.

''We'd expect to continue to be under demand, hoping that once the government of the day settles down and starts getting itself organised, things will improve.

''Here in Canberra, I'd be quite surprised if things settle down before April or May next year.'' Lifeline, which resorted to redundancies this year to try to control costs, remains beset by financial strife and Mr Zissler reported it was getting worse.

''My end-of-year report will say demand up by 30 per cent, donations down by 15 to 20 per cent,'' he said. ''So I've got more work but less money and that's typical of the not-for-profit sector.

''As the climate tightens up, people who a couple of years ago might have given me $10 or $15, might give me $8 now.''

Lifeline is a service designed to help people out of the immediate danger of self-harm or suicide. Mr Zissler said that other services were often needed to address the underlying problems in callers' lives.

''We're very much a Band-Aid for people in crisis and we're very much about suicide prevention,'' he said.

''In the first instance, we decide if a person is at any immediate risk … of self-harm.

''Once we decide they're not, we work to help them become more resourceful, to help them self-refer to the things they need.

''The Salvation Army has very good financial counselling service that can really help people, and we'll refer to the Salvos, to Vinnies, to hundreds of agencies depending on where somebody is and what their problem is.''

Lifeline 131114


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