My Shanghai, an Urban Family series where we ask a Shanghai-based somebody to tell us about their life.
Having seized the opportunity to make a difference, Coreene Horenko is at the helm of Lifeline Shanghai, where she and a team of volunteers provide a safe avenue for the English-speaking community in China to reach out to when in need. Using her background in cultural and organizational communication, Coreene and the team work tirelessly to shine a light on mental health in China and generate the community support needed to sustain this 100 percent volunteer-based service.
You are the Executive Director of Lifeline Shanghai, what inspired you to pursue this direction?
I began volunteering with Lifeline immediately after I arrived in Shanghai in 2010. As an Australian, which is where Lifeline first started in 1963, I knew how valuable the helpline service was. I wanted to volunteer in a meaningful way, to support people who are living in a culture they may find challenging and unfamiliar. I have always been a passionate advocate for mental health awareness. I grew up with a much-loved cousin who struggled and ultimately lost his battle with schizophrenia. He influenced my life in so many positive ways. I believe through my work at Lifeline, in understanding and fighting the stigma in talking about mental health, I am honoring his memory.
Can you tell us about Lifeline Shanghai’s support for the community?
Lifeline Shanghai provides a helpline and online chat service for the English- speaking community throughout China. We are open daily from 10am to 10pm and our helpline assistants offer emotional, non-judgmental support. Our callers can speak openly and confidentially while being truly heard. We provide information and referrals to other professional services to assist people in receiving the extra support they may need.
We are very active in the community, presenting on various topics, leading workshops and raising awareness of the importance of mental health in leading a fulfilling life. We are also advocates of the World Health Organization statement: “There is no health without mental health.”
Our community awareness campaign, ‘R U OK? – A conversation could change a life,’ encourages us all to reach out and support someone who is struggling. Through learning skills and gaining confidence, we can all help someone to feel supported and not alone. By holding community, school and corporate workshops, we are building communities where people learn how to support one another. Our annual ‘R U OK? Day’ encourages action in the community, raises awareness about the importance of mental health and creates solidarity.
Working on an important issue such as mental health, how do you separate the issues you are confronted with at work from your private life?
Like all Lifeline volunteers, we can find it difficult at times to go home or head out with friends for dinner, when we know many people are going through a difficult time in their lives. However, we can only provide this essential service if we take care of ourselves. First and foremost, our Lifeline policies support the health and wellbeing of our volunteers, such as ongoing training and workshops, that help them understand the importance of actively practicing self-care. As volunteers, we also go through challenging times, and we encourage our team to take time out for themselves if experiencing personal difficulties. Self-care is essential for everyone, but for our volunteers, compassion fatigue can be a real concern.
You have many volunteers working with you. Can you tell us about them?
Our dedicated volunteers come from around the world and have various backgrounds. They are teachers, psychologists, accountants, marketing professionals, social workers, medical doctors, company directors, academics and so on. They are seasoned professionals who have chosen to give their time in support of others. Their reasons for volunteering are as diverse as their backgrounds, but they are often the person their friends reach out to for help – empathetic, a good listener and non-judgmental. Volunteers go through an extensive selection process to qualify as helpline assistants: an application, intensive interview and training with ongoing suitability assessments. Once chosen, volunteers commit to attending ongoing professional development and regular training to maintain their knowledge and skills.
What does a regular day at Lifeline Shanghai involve?
I’m not sure what a ‘regular day’ is, to be honest, it always varies. We have volunteers coming into our office and supporting our callers, and each other. We never know what help our callers may need and having the support of each other is very beneficial. Other volunteers may be preparing materials to attend an outreach event, updating our database, writing articles, discussing an upcoming workshop and most importantly, keeping the cookie jar full.
I understand you cover a broad range of issues with the calls you receive. Can you provide examples of this?
While our calls are completely confidential, I can say we receive the most calls about relationships: romantic, family and work. Issues affecting relationships can include infidelity, lack of emotional intimacy, the pressure of work and, in extreme cases, domestic violence. Our helpline assistants encourage callers to share their story, listening carefully to help talk through options that may improve their situation. Teenagers contact us about family and study pressure, being bullied, loneliness and breakups. We also receive crisis calls where people are feeling suicidal. We always concentrate on ensuring their safety at such a critical time. These are difficult calls, but also a moment in time when we can help someone in great need.
How can the community become involved with Lifeline Shanghai; what opportunities are available?
As a 100 percent volunteer organization, we rely solely on community and corporate support, and there are many ways to become involved with Lifeline Shanghai.
Twice a year we recruit and train helpline assistants. Please refer to our website for further information. We also have positions within our team for fundraising, office administration, events and editorial. Please email email@example.com regarding these. We welcome businesses to become a ‘Friend of Lifeline Shanghai’ and provide financial support or in-kind donations. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org regarding this.
Finally, be sure to follow our official WeChat account for all contact information and details of upcoming events, such as our R U OK? Day on Saturday, November 3.
The Lifeline helpline is confidential, anonymous and open 10am-10pm 365 days a year. If you need assistance please call (021) 6279 8990 or start an online chat via our website.
For more My Shanghai series, click here.