Our Say: Crisis centres must be given a cash lifeline

The funding problem threatening the Dubbo and Orange regional branches of Lifeline is not just another argument about budgets, costs and complaints … it is about the survival of a vital service to communities.

For people in mental and emotional crises, the two call centres are lifesavers.

That the funding shortfall has reached its current state is a matter of deep concern.

The issue was made public on Thursday when the head of Lifeline Central West Alex Ferguson turned to the media to help put pressure on the Lifeline Australia national office in a bid to shame the organisation into dividing up its funding differently.

He said Lifeline call centres in Dubbo, Orange and Bathurst have not received the appropriate amount of funding because they are counted as one centre, not three under the national office’s funding model.

The Dubbo and Orange centres narrowly averted closure over the lack of funds at a Lifeline Central West meeting this week. They will continue their work, but Mr Ferguson said there will be little money to train new volunteers.

The volunteers deal in a high-pressure environment – often literally dealing with matters of life and death. The burn-out rate is understandably high. If volunteers can’t be trained the centres will soon run out of the numbers to meet demand and will be less effective.

The crisis comes not long after Lifeline issued statistics showing greater call rates at all its Central West centres. That is not surprising in the Western region where years of drought, economic hardship and other factors, piled on top of serious disadvantage in some communities, have seen mental health problems multiply.

Lifeline in Dubbo and the whole region is vital to our people. Nothing should be allowed to diminish its great work.

While there may be a “Mexican stand-off” between the national and regional organisations over money, a speedy solution and settlement is critical.

The Daily Liberal asked the office of NSW Mental Health Minister Pru Goward if government could provide extra funding or if it could intervene in the impasse. There was no response.

There is a growing (and much-needed) focus on mental health. Everyone knows that.

Lifeline saves lives. Common sense must be applied. The Central West organisation needs to be given a financial lifeline. Now.