2023 winners: in their own words

After a competitive nominations process with submissions from across the Talk Suicide network, we’re delighted to announce the recipients of the Jason Chare Crisis Responder Excellence Awards 2023.

Watch this video to hear 2023 winners Renée, Mark, and Nicoline share their experiences of being Talk Suicide responders.

Then read more about each winner in their profiles below.

Volunteer of the year 2023: Renée

Renée is this year’s very deserving winner of the Jason Chare Crisis Responder Excellence Award in the volunteer category. Laura, who nominated Renée,  said “Renée is the most caring and gentle responder I know. Her compassion is beyond what is expected, and she continues to astonish me with the thoughtfulness, consideration, and attention she brings to each and every conversation.”

We asked Renée what being a responder means to her: here’s what she had to say.

How do you maintain composure, and focus on the needs of a help seeker during a difficult interaction?

A really important place to start with any interaction is to focus on the service user’s needs – to find out what kind of help they're looking for and how I can best support them. Sometimes setting boundaries is important - being clear and direct about what type of behavior you might not tolerate as a responder.

It also depends why the interaction is difficult. I think tuning into ourselves and realizing what's challenging us is important, because there can be many things that come up that we didn't prepare for or expect. In the cases where somebody is getting escalated, my first step is to breathe, slow down and try to resist the physiological reaction. When you're talking with someone who's really distressed, we tend to feel that energy ourselves. So the more escalated the other person gets, the more I try to lean into that breath.

What else have you learned since you became a responder?

I've learned a lot about myself, but I think the biggest thing I've learned is about the ways that people find the strength to get through extremely difficult circumstances that they've been put into. I've learned a deep respect for every single person that calls in and has trusted their story with me. I can't imagine going through the things that they've been through and coming out on the other side the way that they have.

There are definitely stories that have stayed with me. When people tell you really vulnerable things, they will always stay with you in some form, whether it's conscious or unconscious. There are some stories that I still remember and I don't know if I'll ever forget them. I think it's okay to hold on to those stories. You have to find a way to not let it interfere while respecting and honoring what you have heard. Keeping it within you and letting it affect your life on an everyday basis are two different things.

Staff Responder of the year 2023: Mark

In this year’s staff responder of the year category, we had a tie for first place! One of this year’s winners is Mark. Elizabeth, who nominated Mark, said “Mark is passionate about the work we do in suicide prevention and support for those in emotional distress. Knowing Jason, Mark reminds me of him with his patience under stress. Mark is a kind soul, and he is skilled in creating rapport. I believe he has saved many lives.”

Mark tells us why he became a responder, and what he thinks is the most important quality that a responder needs to have.

What motivated you to become a responder? What motivates you to stay in the role?

I felt that it would be a good opportunity to be a positive force in the community I live in. In terms of my motivation to continue now, I feel a lot of gratitude. To be able to have an impact and to hold space with someone is a big honor.

How do you take care of yourself?

That is a very important question. Self-care is important to me. I have a support system. Communicating my feelings is important, to help me to stay grounded and stay a mentally healthy state of mind. If you internalize all your emotions, at some point, it's going to come out in a negative way.

I work out, I eat healthy and try to focus on doing all those things that are good for my mind, my body and my soul. I embrace the bad days, I find the perspective gives me gratitude and I think there's some really good lessons that we take from them, things that we can grow from.

What do you think is the most important quality that a responder needs to have?

Empathy. It is just the most important, crucial part of this job. You can't manufacture it - it's going to be difficult to support people without it. When I'm on a call I'm really trying to put myself in the other person's shoes. I'm trying to understand their situation. You'll never fully understand, but you are trying - that's where that empathy comes in.

Staff Responder of the year 2023: Nicoline

The second of this year’s winners in the staff responder of the year category  is Nicoline – Mark and Jessica, who nominated Nicoline, said, “Nicoline is one of the strongest and most valuable members of our team. Her capacity for empathy combined with her ability to recognize risk while consistently making ethical decisions under pressure has made her the shining example of what an effective crisis responder should strive to be. Nicoline’s empathy for service users never wavers and for us, she one of our centre’s greatest assets.”

Here Nicoline tells us what motivates her in her role and what advice she has for responders who are just starting out.

What motivates you as a responder?

Nothing in life comes easy and nothing about life is easy. I understand the feelings of despair but also know how pivotal it can be to have somebody simply be a witness to your pain and not try to change you or the situation. I have crossed through the tunnel but now I’m turned around and shining a light on everyone else asking for help. I learn so much every day from the folks that call in. I feel lucky to be that supportive person they can trust and open up to.

What would your advice be to a responder who’s just starting out?

I have worked in a training capacity, and I always like to tell new responders: just take a deep breath. When you first start out you can be anxious, and worried about saying the right thing, but all that you really need to do on the lines is just be there and listen – it’s the caller who is going to guide you. We provide space for the service user to lead us through the interaction. We might support them along the way and give them gentle guidance, but I like to think that the call is in the hands of the caller. In that way, it kind of helps take the pressure off of that fear of messing up or saying the wrong thing. Just be a human, be there, and listen.

Is there anything else that you have learned since being a responder that you want to share?

One of the things I’ve learned is to make sure that I’m debriefing with other team members and just letting them know when something was really difficult. It’s so easy to tell yourself you are strong and that you can brush it off. However, in the reality of this work, the more we brush off the little things, the closer we can get to compassion fatigue and maybe burnout. It’s really important to vocalize some of those issues, instead of just trying to be stoic and taking it all on yourself.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about becoming a responder?

I would encourage anyone who is thinking about becoming a responder to take the leap. Yes, it is an emotionally demanding role but we are supported by the most beautiful community imaginable. Even though it is just you and the service user on the line, you are never truly alone as you navigate this role. All of the responders and administrative staff I’ve met are some of the nicest humans. In a world that is so chaotic and unpredictable, meeting others who strive to be hopeful and optimistic encourages me to be my best.

Staff Responder of the Year -  honorable mention!

The Staff Responder of the Year was such a tough category that the panel also wanted to give a special mention to a third responder. This year’s honorable mention goes to Bryn.-

Michelle, Amber and Christina, who all nominated Bryn, said “Bryn is kind and genuine, works really hard and handles calls so well. She always has a warm and soft tone on the lines and does an amazing job mentoring and helping out whenever she can. Bryn goes the extra mile and demonstrates empathy, kindness and professionalism to the highest caliber. Our lines would not be the same without Bryn. She is just a genuine presence and a wonderful human being to be around!”

Last year, Bryn took part in a video talking about suicide prevention with federal Minister for Mental Health and Addictions, the Honourable Carolyn Bennett. Watch that video on the right of this page.

About the Jason Chare Awards

Each year, the Jason Chare Crisis Responder Excellence Awards go to responders who have gone above and beyond in their role. Jason was a much-loved and respected Talk Suicide colleague who was passionate about responder excellence. Following his untimely death in 2021, these awards were created in his memory.