By Christine Forte
It almost goes without saying that the adjustment to living overseas in Shanghai can be a dramatic experience for many expats and their families. It’s a time when people often find that they need support in ways they never did before, and it’s also a time when they may find themselves completely without it.
Even after adjustments have been made, there are still all of the challenges that may come up as life, well, happens. It can be difficult to know where to turn during these times, making a free hotline service a vital resource for the international community of Shanghai.
Since the founding of confidential, anonymous helpline Lifeline Shanghai (LLS) ten years ago, this organization has made its goal the connection of Shanghai expat community members with help, information and resources when they need it.
“Lifeline’s mission is to enhance the resilience and well-being within Shanghai’s international community,” says Coreene Horenko, the LLS outreach manager. “We strive to provide focused support to our community each time the phone rings. It’s a resource for everyone: adults, teenagers, and children.”
“Lifeline is a culmination of efforts from many people, the idea for which began in 2001,” says Debi Yohn, a counseling psychologist in private practice in Shanghai who had an instrumental role in founding the line. She explains that the organization of the service was based on the model of the Tokyo English Language Line in Japan. The idea continued to evolve until the line came into operation in 2004.
Dr. Timothy Foggin, deputy medical director at International SOS, China, was also a fundamental part of its foundation. He describes how prior to the existence of Lifeline, there was a “huge gap in care, with family doctors at the time seeing lots of individuals and couples going through incredibly stressful experiences. Marriages seemed to be falling apart, expat assignments were failing because of relational issues, and people had nowhere to turn.”
Lifeline Shanghai, in addition to expanded mental health services in Shanghai, has made it possible for both individuals and families to get connected with psychological support when they need it. The line is open to receive calls from 10am to 10pm and calls can be about any kind of topic from crisis support to information resources.
“At the heart of Lifeline Shanghai are our telephone volunteers,” says Susan Hine, medical attaché for the US Consulate. Hine is another health professional who played a vital part in the foundation of LLS.
“Volunteers are screened carefully and receive thorough and ongoing training to develop effective listening skills and the ability to identify the appropriate resources for each caller. As required by Lifeline International, they are bound by a code of conduct and a code of ethics.”
This makes it possible for callers to feel assured that they will be able to reliably get what they need when calling the line, whether it’s a listening ear or a referral to a therapist.
“What Lifeline Shanghai means to me is a sense of community and connection among the volunteer team,” says Allan McDean, LLS program manager. “While the community may need us, we often need each other. Callers are also provided the possibility to discuss any topic in confidentiality and without judgment.”
Horenko agrees, “Lifeline provides a service to the community but is also a very rewarding place to volunteer!”
This October, Lifeline will host a tenth anniversary celebration to celebrate the years of contribution to the international community of Shanghai. The event will be open to the public, date and time to be announced. Please check www.lifeline-shanghai.com for details later in the summer. Lifeline can be reached at 6279 8990.
// Christine Forte is a Lifeline volunteer and mental health counselor at Balanced Heart Counseling in Shanghai. She works with adolescents, adults and couples in both coping with challenges and developing positive habits of mind. www.balancedheartcounseling.com