A pair of valuable services offered in tandem by the Family Counselling Centre in Sarnia is Tel-Check and Distress Line.
I know, because for about two years, I was a volunteer.
One night, about half way through my Tel-Check call list, I connected with “Bob.”
“How has your day been going?” I asked. There was little response.
“Not talkative tonight, Bob?”
“Nothing good going on in my life,” he replied. “I just sit around.”
“What do you wish was going on?” I prodded.
He thought for a while. “Well, I loved it years ago living on the East Coast.”
For some reason that’s when I blurted out: ““You just stay where yer at and I’ll come where yer too.”
And that led into a back and forth exchange of comedy bits by Ron James, the Nova Scotia-born entertainer.
“Summertime rolls around and we hear that siren call – back to Canada’s Atlantic playground,” I quoted. “But read the fine print folks. With water so cold for swimming it’ll comprise your procreation.”
Whether it takes a deep talk about life’s challenges or jokes about weather, social isolation is preventable.
Personal interaction is a basic human need, and just as Sarnia’s food banks feed people experiencing physical hunger, the Family Counselling Centre’s Tel-Check and Distress Line are there to offer relief from social hunger.
Tel-Check volunteers currently provide daily check-in telephone support to 80-to-85 seniors and people with disabilities who live alone. Over the past year, about 27,000 outgoing calls have been made, said program co-ordinator Donna Martin.
The same volunteers simultaneously run the Distress Line, which receives calls from people for reasons ranging from a temporary need to hear a human voice to sudden suicide prevention. The anonymous line can also put callers in contact with appropriate community services.
Volunteers have an understanding of mental health challenges, including schizophrenia, and bi-polar, personality and mood disorders.
But for many callers, there is no mental illness, just a need to talk. I often think of the movie Cast Away, in which the character played by Tom Hanks becomes so lonely while stranded on a deserted island he holds regular conversations and arguments with Wilson, his volleyball.
Tel-Check/Distress Line regularly recruits volunteers. Anyone with a warm heart and friendly nature interested in volunteering can contact Donna Martin at 519-336-0120, ext. 251. There is a four-week, twice-a-week training program. Volunteers provide three, four-hour shifts a month.
And, if you just need someone to talk to, Distress Line is available 24 hours, seven days a week, at 519-336-3000.
Susan Roberts is a Sarnia resident and mental health worker.