When Mandy Larsson was a teenager growing up in Cooma, a close friend took his own life.
For years afterwards, all she could think about was the sheer waste of it all.
"This was an amazing young fellow and it was a tragic story, he'd just split up with his girlfriend, and thought his life was over," she says.
"He talked to me and I said, 'There's plenty more fish in the sea', that type of thing. All the wrong things to say."
She knows that now, but she couldn’t have known then. Today, she talk to dozens of people over the phone, many of them in crisis. As Lifeline Canberra’s director of crisis support, she is trained to know exactly what to say, and when, to someone who might be contemplating self-harm or suicide.
But back then, she was just 17, still finding her own way.
Later, when she was in her early 20s, her uncle also died by suicide.
"He was schizophrenic, and he wasn't found by his family for 10 days after he died," she says.
"That was something that was really huge to me, that nobody should not be cared about enough to be missing for 10 days. That really had an impact on me."
It was these two events that would eventually lead her to Lifeline, first as a volunteer, and later as a paid staff member. She’s about to clock up 18 years in the office, and her work is as vital as ever.
"You never know when you pick up that phone what's going to happen," she says.
Born and bred in Cooma - her parents met on the Snowy in 1965 - she married a local and had two kids, before the family moved to Canberra. She had originally worked in the travel industry, but, when the kids were still small, she decided to cast around for something else to do.
She decided to volunteer at Lifeline. Back then, in 2001, the office on Northbourne Avenue had just two phone lines in a tiny room. In the years since, the office has expanded to seven lines, and is now a national service, taking calls from all over the country. And the phones have never stopped ringing.
"We have 1 million calls a year across the country, but the sad fact of that is that we only answer about 850-870,000 calls," she says.
It’s those 150,000 calls - around 15 per cent - left unanswered that keep her up at night.
"These callers will ring Lifeline, and they'll get on our queue service for our first available crisis supporter, but if it's 11 o'clock at night, we can be absolutely flat out and you may have to wait 10 minutes to get through to a crisis supporter," she says.
"That's a bloody long time if you're in crisis. So for me, this is one of the reasons I'm still there, because every caller that rings Lifeline should be answered. Every single caller."
Meanwhile, just 4 per cent of Lifeline Canberra’s funding comes from government
"We have to fundraise for 96 per cent of our budget. Thank god for the book fairs," she says. Canberra’s hugely popular twice-yearly event is the office’s main source of revenue.
Funding or no funding, the phones ring at all hours. On the other end are "all kinds of people, from all kinds of socio-economic backgrounds, calling for all kinds of reasons," she says.
"Just to give you an example, we just had a 21-year-old girl who'd had a stroke, and she was talking about the loss of her life, the loss of her identity, and the loss of who she is as a person.
"A couple of weeks ago, we had someone who's just found out she's got six weeks to live from cancer.
And then there are people who are just lonely and have nobody else to talk to."
It’s the rise of loneliness that has been one of the biggest changes during her time at Lifeline.
"We're in a more connected society, now, but people are more alone - they don't have that connectedness on a human level."
The office fields calls from people who ring the service every day for months on end, as well as first-time callers from a wide variety of backgrounds.
"It could be just to get through that crisis, they could call every day for a couple of months, or life's just really tough and they might call for a year every day, and that's ok. And that's hard for us to talk to them every day - to imagine living that life," she says.
"And every day you pick up a phone and it's a first-time caller too. And what we've found is that we've had a 22 per cent increase in people talking about a third-party suicide - not being suicidal themselves, but needing help for another person."
Larsson still answers the phones herself as much as possible - she needs to know what her staff are dealing with - but the training and supervision of staff is as vigilant as it’s ever been.
"I still get anxious before I pick up that phone, and that's important, because that means I care about who's on the end of the phone. If I don't have that rush, I shouldn't be doing it anymore," she says.
"The other thing that's changed greatly is just that we have so much debriefing and so much more supervision, because that's just so important. If you're taking a crisis call, you need that chain of support to back you up."
Larsson received a medal of the Order of Australia in January for her services to the community, but she says her work is far from being done.
The office is in constant need of more volunteers, and with Canberra's transient population, it's harder to keep people coming back.
"Canberra is an amazing community and we have about 320 volunteers on the phones now, but we have the ability to have more.
"The thing is, life changes. People are studying or working."
While taking calls from people in crisis for hours on end is draining, Larsson says she and her staff rely on black humour - some days, it’s what pulls them all through - and the ability to switch off the moment they leave the office.
"I think now I do what I do, and do my best, but then I let it go. I can remember maybe a handful of callers now," she says.
"And every day I walk out of there and think geez, I'm so lucky. Some people's lives are just incredibly sad. You feel grateful, and you feel hopefully that you've been able to make some sort of a difference by keeping them going, keeping them having faith in life."
She stresses that not all calls involve people deep in crisis; for every suicidal caller, there could be half a dozen people who just want to talk
"That person who wants to have a yarn, if you give them 20 minutes, maybe you're the only person they're going to talk to in the day," she says.
"But I think as a nation, as a society, we have to recognise that Lifeline's number is similar to the Triple 0 number. It is a necessary number to save lives. We do that every day."
"I think that needs to be told more, we need to be aware that this service is integral in the health and wellbeing of our society, so we need to put more money into it."
In the meantime, she says, there will always be those 15 per cent of calls that go unanswered.
Support is available for those who may be distressed by phoning Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; beyondblue 1300 224 636; 1800-RESPECT 1800 737 732.