Looking after your helpline workers

Sarah Hill

It’s World Mental Health Day on the 10th of October, a day on which helpline services should feel proud of the enormous contribution they give to supporting people who are going through difficult periods in their lives. As a sector, we tend to (quite rightly) focus on our service users and how we can improve the quality of information, advice and support we give to those who are in need.

However, we sometimes miss the opportunity to ensure that the staff and volunteers who work for these vital services are looked after too. Helpline workers suffer a high percentage of burnout, which is unsurprising given the emotional and intense nature of the one-to-one contact they provide.

The Helplines Standard, the quality assurance tool for the helplines sector, asks organisations to ensure measures are implemented to support the mental and physical health and safety of staff and volunteers. So, how best to do this?

  1. Have support immediately available. If helpline workers are able to access support from another worker or supervisor immediately after a distressing call, it can help them to debrief more effectively – especially if working from home.
  2. Train your helpline workers to debrief each other. Sometimes the resources aren’t available to ensure supervision is always accessible, so ask your helpline workers to support each other. Training will help every helpline worker to be an effective debriefer – and sometimes it’s enough just to know that others in your team are there to support you.
  3. Encourage regular breaks – a quick five minute walk, make a cup of tea or visit a different part of the building. If working from home, encourage helpline workers to have a space put aside for helpline work – then they can physically remove themselves to a different part of the home, which helps with a mental separation too.
  4. Reflective practice helps to debrief internally. Ask helpline workers to keep regular notes of what they think went well, and what they could do differently next time after difficult contacts.
  5. Mindfulness techniques can be used to take a break mentally as well as physically. Have a look at: www.bemindful.co.uk

For more information on responding to emotional service users and how Helplines Partnership can help

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