The Phone Call: An Oscar winning helpline story?

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A short film encompassing a challenging helpline call is up for an Oscar in the Short Films Category. The Phone Call is a compelling 20 minute film directed by Mat Kirkby covering the conversation between Heather, a helpline worker on a crisis line played by Sally Hawkins, and Stan, an older caller played by Jim Broadbent who calls needing support. The film covers many themes that will be familiar for people working in our sector. There are strong themes on suicidal calls, anonymity, loneliness and building a rapport with a caller.

The film has had a huge reception at International Film Festivals, and has already won 9 awards including Best Narrative Short at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film is a work of fiction, and probably doesn’t fully reflect how suicidal calls are handled in most helplines. Risk to callers on helplines is a challenging topic. Whilst many helpline callers will be content to take action on their own behalf in order to mitigate all sorts of risk of harm to themselves or others, there are certain circumstances under which helplines may decide, or may be obliged to intervene on behalf of a helpline user in order to prevent or alert others to harm or abuse. These will usually be restricted to the rare occasions on which dangers of harm or abuse appear imminent and serious, and helplines usually take a risk based approach to deciding their policy and escalation routes in these circumstances.

There’s a few other issues that come out from the film, such as lone working, staff receiving appropriate support and supervision, and many helplines have moved towards computer systems and electronic records which are more effective than paper based notes. However, there are also some examples of good practice like the tone that Heather takes, how respectful she is to the caller, and her mix of closed and open questions.

This film has great potential to raise awareness of the work within our sector and the impact on our dedicated staff and volunteers of listening and responding to challenging call content. It really emphasises the importance of helplines and the work that we do to support the health sector.

Update: The film won in the Short Films Category. Follow them here

Watch the film
What do you think? Is The Phone Call a good reflection of life in our sector?

What would your helpline do differently?

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