A Day In The Life of A Helpline Advisor
As one of the advisers who answers the constant stream of calls, texts and emails to the Mind Infoline, Ian never knows which aspect of mental health he’ll be discussing next. He takes us through a typical day spent offering information and advice.
My shift starts at 9am, but I arrive a few minutes early to check any emails and open up the database we use, ready for the day’s first call.
As usual, the first call comes through as soon as I log on to the phone system. Once I’m on the phone it’s often non-stop until I take a break in two or three hours.
You’re constantly learning – mental health is a huge area and I learn something new every day – but you develop enough confidence to think that, whatever the call is about, you’ll be able to deal with it. And before you start as an adviser you receive mental health awareness training, to help you understand more about subjects like mental health problems and medications.
Today’s first call is from a man who tells me he’s been feeling anxious and depressed. He’s spoken to his GP and thinks counselling could help, but the waiting list in his area is long. We hear from a lot of people in that sort of situation.
I find out where he lives and do a quick search on our database for his local Mind. I can see that they offer a counselling service, so I put him in touch with them. He tells me he’s glad he called. It’s a good start to the day.
Every day is different, but during an eight-hour shift we might take between 20 and 30 calls. After speaking to a few more people, I take a call from a schoolteacher. Both of her daughters have mental health problems, and she tells me that one of them has been given an overdose accidentally while sectioned.
The lady is desperate for help, so I talk to her about the process involved in making a complaint about mental health treatment, and point her in the direction of her local Mind, where she’ll be able to find more support. We ask people to complete an optional feedback survey once they’ve called, and later I find out that this lady said the call was the first time she’d felt listened to. That’s really positive.
We’re not an emotional support line – our focus is on providing information and directing people towards the right support – but there is an element of emotional support if people feel the need to talk. We do listen to what people have to say.
I speak to a young lady who manages to tell me that she’s having a panic attack. I stay on the phone with her for a quarter of an hour, using relaxation techniques to bring her anxiety down. Later we discuss services near her that might be able to offer useful support.
On every call you block out any surrounding noise. I’m fully focused on what each client is saying. There are times when advisers around me leave when I’m on a call and I don’t even notice they’ve gone.
There are 20 seconds between calls and then you’re straight on to the next one. So once I’ve said goodbye to the previous caller, I answer the phone to a man who’s been declined the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefit.
The benefits system is one of the major issues we hear about. It can create financial worries that then affect people’s mental health. In this case, I use our database to find a local Citizen’s Advice that can help the client launch an appeal against the PIP decision.
There’s a brief pause in the calls so I respond to some emails that have been allocated to me. We always respond within four days. Today, I mostly point people towards information about mental health on Mind’s website.
I take a call from a young man who tells me he is experiencing suicidal thoughts. On calls like this we balance offering support with sensitively discovering why someone wants to take their own life and if they have a plan.
Everything people tell us is confidential, but if we’re worried someone is not feeling safe, we can call 999. These are never easy decisions to make, and we always make them in consultation with the team at Mind.
With this call, I’m happy there isn’t an immediate risk so I encourage the client to seek support locally. I give him the number for his local Mind and let him know that he can speak to the duty psychiatrist at his local A&E.
I can gradually hear his voice lifting. At the end of the call he tells me he’s going to seek support. After difficult calls like that you can always take some time out, and there’s a sign we can hold up during calls so our line manager can come and listen in. There’s counselling support here too, so we all see a counsellor once a month and can request to speak to the counsellor more often if we need to.
As the end of my shift draws nearer, I take several calls from people who are looking for information, so again point them towards Mind’s website.
We get some lovely feedback. In general, people know Mind and are grateful for the support we offer. It’s great going home knowing I’ve been a part of that process.
For more information on what support is available and for more case studies from helpline staff see our pages on support.
Do you need help finding mental health support?
Call Mind’s Infoline on 0300 123 3393, email [email protected] or text 86463. We will look for details of help and support in your own area. Our lines are open 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays).
Visit Mind’s website for more information and for an A-Z of mental health.