Hotline operator

What happens when a crisis worker ends up in crisis?

16 August 2023
Student spotlight: Jayden Sercombe
In this edition of Matilda’s Student Spotlight, we sit down with HDR student Jayden Sercombe to learn more about his research, how he decompresses after a long day researching, and how to support crisis workers supporting us.
Jayden Sercombe

Full Name: Jayden Sercombe

Position at the Matilda Centre: PhD candidate

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to join the Matilda Centre?

I’m Jayden, a PhD candidate at the Matilda Centre just starting my second year. You can find me on weekends playing football or escaping Sydney to go camping. I also have a love-hate relationship with running and (sort of) enjoy doing that.

I finished my Honours in Psychology just before COVID hit (phew) and then stumbled over a job at the Matilda Centre. At the time I was reading a lot about how substance use affects people, from authors like Gabor Maté, and have always been fascinated in the area. I was also working on a research project that involved interviewing people in long-stay residential treatment and found it very transformative.

I always thought I would study to be a clinical psychologist but I loved research and working at the Matilda Centre so much that I decided to start a PhD. 

Can you tell us about your research in crisis helplines?

While I was thinking about doing a PhD, I was also volunteering as a crisis supporter at Lifeline. I noticed there was a significant lack of research on the wellbeing of people who work at crisis helplines. 

Crisis support work is very rewarding, it really helps you to appreciate your situation and feel connected to people across all walks of life. You can also hear some traumatic material, and the stakes are very high. After certain calls – especially one where the help-seeker is suicidal – I found myself wondering what happened to the person after the call ended. It didn’t keep me up at night but after a while it started to weigh on me.

In my PhD, I’m researching the way the role can affect crisis supporters (positively and negatively). I’m also really interested in what methods people can use to cope with stress from work in a healthy way. 

My ultimate aim is to create a wellbeing program to support crisis supporters. I think crisis helplines are the most effective way to reach isolated and lonely people who are struggling. I want to help crisis supporters (often volunteers) to carry out their work without compromising their own wellbeing.  

Can you tell us a little about compassion fatigue?

Yes! Compassion fatigue is the cost of caring for others. If you have ever supported your friends or family through tough times, you may have experienced it. 

Among other things, people can feel irritability or emotional exhaustion. It typically results from repeated instances where you are empathetically engaging with others. Crisis supporters are vulnerable to compassion fatigue due to the nature of their work; they’re taking multiple calls a shift.

Self-care is key in preventing compassion fatigue. If you’re feeling emotionally exhausted, take some time for yourself to exercise, have a tea, or talk to a loved one.

What is something most people wouldn't know about you?

That I play the drums and tuned percussion! It’s a little hard now I live in a terrace house, but I used to spend a lot of time playing a big xylophone called a marimba. I was also big into jazz drumming and will get back into it one day! 

Who are your supervisors?

Professor Katherine Mills (University of Sydney), Dr Emma Devine (University of Sydney) and Dr Mark Deady (The Black Dog Institute, UNSW).  

Learn more about Jayden’s work on Twitter/X at @JaydenSercombe.