Heeding a cry for help

IRT chief executive Nieves Murray is often the anonymous voice counselling desperate people who call Lifeline. Photo: ANDY ZAKELI
IRT chief executive Nieves Murray is often the anonymous voice counselling desperate people who call Lifeline. Photo: ANDY ZAKELI

Nieves Murray oversees a large aged-care service provider with 8000 residents and 2200 staff, but few know the extent of her volunteer work behind the scenes.

SMART Infrastructure Facility chief operating officer Tania Brown recently described the IRT chief executive as a whirlwind after she enlisted the support of 25 Wollongong leaders for the Vinnies CEO Sleepout in Lang Park on June 21.

Mrs Murray also recently donned wings to become an Angel at Work, collecting donations for the Leukaemia Foundation.

Since 2010, one of her passions has been her volunteer work as a Lifeline telephone counsellor.

"It is not something I publicise," she said."It is just something I do because it is what I want to do. It doesn't matter what position you hold in society or in a job, at the end of the day we are all people. And that for me is an equaliser because people help people no matter what situation they are in."

Mrs Murray admitted part of her motivation for applying to become a Lifeline telephone counsellor was personal.

She remembered being taught how to listen during her undergraduate psychology degree at the University of Wollongong, but thought volunteering at Lifeline could help her develop her listening skills.

But her training almost stopped before it started. "Once I'd applied and been accepted to do the training, things radically changed for me," she said.

"It was the night before the training was starting. I got a call ... my dear and close family friend whom I'd grown up with had taken his life during the evening. I went straight there. You can imagine the scene, the grief, the shock."

Mrs Murray said as she walked into her first Lifeline training session the next day she felt numb.

"I spoke to the trainer and ... she was incredibly empathetic and supportive, as was the entire group the following weekend when we undertook our suicide intervention residential training program," she said.

"As hard as it was, it was the unconditional support of people whom I'd never met before, that helped me to reconcile the grief I was feeling. This was the most profound lesson of all - the power of unconditional support from complete strangers."

And support for complete strangers in the form of listening is what Mrs Murray now provides others during her regular four-hour shifts.

"Being on the end of the phone connecting with someone is a great privilege," she said.

"Particularly when you are the first person that they have spoken [to] regarding their circumstances. Every caller is unique. Every situation is unique. Sometimes the responsibility of answering the call feels overwhelming. Will I help? Will I be able to connect? It can be uplifting. And always levelling."

Mrs Murray admitted to feeling a little daunted when she first started the 14 weeks of training and made a commitment to fortnightly shifts.

And she wondered how she would find the time. "Then I thought 'no, this is important'," she said. "I thought this is something I can contribute, that I can do well and that I can learn from. But I did not expect I would be getting more out of it than I was giving back."

Mrs Murray said her volunteering experiences had improved her life. "The richness that volunteering and working with vulnerable people adds to my life is immeasurable. Every call, every interaction makes me a better person," she said.