Distress Centre Durham (DCD) is a 24-hour call centre offering support for mental health issues, an LGBTQ+ specific helpline, and a support program for suicide survivors. DCD partners with 911 Emergency and Call Centre Communications students from Durham College to provide real life and hands-on experience with taking emergency calls.
DCD provides company to people going through hard times, and although they do not give out advice to people in difficult situations, they lend an open ear and non-judgmental understanding to all callers, regardless of the reason behind the call.
Annette Patrick is both a professor and the placement coordinator for students in the program. She says DCD is a fantastic learning environment for call centre students.
“Its a place where students are able to practice their technical skills as well as their soft skills in a learning work environment,” Patrick says. “In many call centres, regulations don’t allow placement students to participate in calls but at Distress Centre Durham, it’s a hands-on learning environment where they’re actually taking the calls, and following up with callers.”
Reagan Feher is graduating from the 911 Emergency and Call Centre Communications program at DC, and is doing her field placement at the distress centre. She says taking the calls can be difficult, but her program gave her a strong foundation to be prepared for the stress.
“We use what we’re taught in school, like using open-ended questions, active listening and getting as much information as you can without draining them with your questions,” she says. “Let them tell their stories, and support them with empathetic statements.”
Patrick also spoke about how the call centre helps teach employees the importance of self-care and looking after one’s own mental health.
“Along with being taught how to support the callers, it’s heavily encouraged to look after yourself, too,” she says. “There’s an epidemic in emergency services of workers being off work for stress-related injuries, so we’re trying to insulate students so they’re prepared for this workforce and the mental impact of the field.”
Patrick also advises future students in the program searching for placements to be aware of their own health and to look after themselves during a stressful placement environment.
“It’s a stressful job, both because of the types of calls you receive and also the long hours – we’re a 24/7 call centre, so people need to be prepared to take care of themselves first,” Patrick says. “You can’t help others if you aren’t well yourself. When flight attendants tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others, it’s the same thing with mental health.”
If interested in calling Distress Centre Durham’s 24-hour helpline, call (905) – 430 – 2522 or toll-free at 1-800-452-0688.