Sydney Suicide Helpline Pleads for Funding as Lockdown Drives Demand

By Sophia Jiang
Sophia Jiang
Sophia Jiang
August 9, 2021 Updated: August 18, 2021

An Australian suicide prevention charity is pleading for extra government funding to meet the surging demand for lifesaving help amidst repeated COVID-19 lockdowns.

The suicide helpline of Parents Beyond Breakup (PBB), a national non-profit, has recorded its highest number of callers in its 22-years of operation, with an overall 85 percent increase in calls since the first Australian COVID-19 lockdowns in March 2020.

The Sydney-based helpline (1300 853 437) is manned by an eight-member team, with the service’s about 40 qualified volunteers running face to face and online peer support group services.

Some of the services include Dads in Distress and Mums in Distress. These specialised services have built a track record in offering life-rebuilding support.

Epoch Times Photo
Gilliant Hunt, the CEO of an Australian suicide prevention charity is pleading for more government funding to meet the surging demand for life-saving help amid repeated bouts of lockdowns across the country. (Supplied)

Gillian Hunt, the CEO of PBB, said the organisation is struggling to manage the call load of its suicide helpline and online support demand as lockdowns continue across Sydney and other capital cities.

“Whilst our face-to-face peer groups are the backbone of our support for dads and mums in distress, we have had to react very fast to the impact of COVID restrictions and take most of our groups online when venues shut down, and social distancing became mandatory,” she told the Epoch Times.

“The sheer increase in calls to our helpline, as well as the massive uptake of attendance at our online peer support groups, is a clear indication to us of the need across our communities for the support with mental health and situational distress,” Hunt said, adding that it was overwhelmingly “distressed fathers” who have reached out for help.

“What we are seeing now, however, specifically in South Western Sydney, is that the issues for parents are far greater than those they face with parental alienation outside of lockdown,” she said.

The harsh lockdown has not only isolated these parents further from their children but also left some homeless due to the lack of access to emergency relocation services.

“The impact on the mental health of both parents and kids are devastating,” Hunt said. “We are concerned that the longer the lockdown continues, the impacts of isolation upon our parents will indeed worsen their state of mind and general mental wellbeing.”

Funding Only For Big National Organisations

The surging load on PBB’s support services has prompted Hunt to apply for a share of the governments’ extra mental health funding for COVID-19. But the charity is yet to gain any funding. This is partly because the separating parents, especially “distressed fathers,” are under-represented.

According to the statistics provided by PBB, one million children across the nation live in separated families, and more than 50 percent of separated fathers have thought about taking their own lives. In addition, every week, there are around 15 male suicides and three female suicides potentially linked to relationship separation.

Hunt also noted that PBB’s services are specifically for suicide prevention.

“We need that fund injection so that we can support our most vulnerable clients—at this time, the dads and mums in lockdown areas,” she said.

Dr Sebastian Rosenberg, a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre, said the challenge PBB faces highlights a chronic problem with the governments’ mental health funding system—allocation efficiency.

“Despite the funding boost in response to COVID -19, the allocation efficiency is far from satisfactory, ” he told the Epoch Times. “Currently, the majority of funds are channelled to big national organizations  which have already had contractual relations while those out of this territory have limited access to resources.”

A Helping Hand to Those in Need

Henry, a volunteer with PBB, understands how important the service is and how it can make a difference to those in distress.

A father who has been separated from his kids called PBB in late 2018 after being deeply let down by some other suicide prevention helplines. The man at the other end just listened to him, showing his empathy in a few brief words.

“I could tell he felt my pain and cared about me, ” he recalled. “I opened myself up and started to cry.”

He spent the next 30 minutes recounting his excruciating experience since the relationship breakup, from being a hands-on father with a successful corporate career and a family to a distressed bachelor with no job, no friends, and no hope.

He also shared his anguish at being alienated from his children, dealing with acrimonious litigations and targeted family orders based on made-up claims.

“I just wanted to release myself from the pain,” he said, explaining how he was struggling with suicidal thoughts in the darkest time of his life.

But the connection with PBB  turned his life around. On top of the caring and professional team who helped with his mental health, Henry also had access to peer support from other parents who had gone through the same issues, which offered him much needed trust, courage, and self-esteem.

“It has probably saved my life,” he said. “The journey with PBB was not only about rebuilding myself bit by bit, but also about regaining the purpose of life.”

Having come out of the trauma stronger, the father is now committing his time and experience to help more people rebuild their lives.

“I want to give back to the community,” he said. “I want to let those in distress know they are not alone and there is always help available.”

Sophia Jiang
Sophia Jiang