One of our Telephone Support Workers tells us what a day (or night!) working on our emotional support helpline is like…
Ready to start a shift as a Telephone Support Worker (TSW), I arrive at the office where I am greeted by the staff ready to go home. We discuss any concerns or points of interest in our verbal handover, this is in addition to the written handover which they would have completed, while I wipe down my work station and get prepared to sign on and start the day. I sign on my computer and telephone and ensure I have all the correct databases open on my computer. If I’m not taking a call I will read through the handover, my emails and make sure I am up to date with current events and news. This is important as it may potentially impact those that I am supporting.
Taking calls is the predominant aspect of the job role and the calls which we take vary significantly. I may answer a call which is a person seeking advice or guidance on an aspect of their lives, to then answer a call which is a crisis in which the emergency services need to be engaged. This unpredictability of the role makes the job an interesting, fulfilling and challenging one. When answering a call your attention must be undivided and it is important to utilise active listening skills to truly understand what the caller is saying and to assess which is the appropriate support to provide. In some cases a person’s wellbeing or potentially their lives can depend on the support we provide. After we have taken a call we must ensure all the computer databases are up to date and correct. There is an answering service where callers can leave a message in the event of all the phone lines being occupied. Answer messages receive equal priority and are checked regularly between calls.
Another form of support the Helpline provides is online chats; these are really beneficial for those that struggle to communicate through the telephone. While on a chat the TSW must sign off the phone to provide the client their undivided attention and support. These chats can be as equally challenging and varied as telephone calls except they utilise a different range of communication skills due to inability to hear a person’s tone of voice and instant response. This brings healthy variety to the job. Another form of support a TSW provides is by text and telephone support to assist people that use a specialised app to manage their day to day lives. This is a more personalised approach and can be very empowering for the service user. Referral forms and assessments for associated services are also completed by TSWs.
The Helpline is a fantastic service which covers many areas of the country, so promotion of the service is necessary to ensure people in those areas are aware of its support. Promotion can include attending events to meet the public and local authorities to spread awareness of mental health and the helpline service. This is always rewarding as a wide variety of people attend the events and it allows the opportunity to create connections with other beneficial services. We need to prepare for the events to make the Helpline area of the event interesting and informative; this includes making ‘goodie bags’ and using our creativity to produce decorations and activities. The promotions team works hard to create the best experience for the public. Twitter is another form of promotion which is done during a shift that allows the service to connect with a wider audience. We like to share news, information and quotes. If you are curious to see our hard work, why not follow us – our username is @MHM_Helpline !
As a team and service we promote self-care and caring for our mental health to our callers, and we also like to ‘practice what we preach’ as our own wellbeing enables us to provide the best service to the public. If we have a particularly delicate or difficult call it can be hard to transition from one call to the next without a short break period. In this time we are able to talk to other members of the team for support or have debriefing sessions with team leaders. In the office to support employee wellbeing there is a “wellbeing area” which includes mindful colouring pages, sweet treats, self-care information, magazines and other forms of healthy distractions for after difficult calls. This area is maintained by the staff for the staff, and it brings a sense of community to the team and allows us to look after our own wellbeing whilst supporting others.
Being a Telephone Support Worker is very varied and no two days are the same due to all the different tasks that need to be completed depending on what the service users need, upcoming events and other responsibilities which may be delegated to us on the day. Each shift ends with a handover being sent through the internal email system to make the next shift staff aware of any changes or important information. Some days can be very challenging but there is satisfaction at the end of each shift knowing you were able to support someone who needed it.