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An empathetic ear

Volunteers at the newly launched AOP Peer Support Line understand the unique challenges of working within the optical sector

Thurka Sivapalan

Volunteers have taken the first calls to the newly launched Peer Support Line - the AOP listening service for individuals at any stage of their optical career.

The confidential and anonymous AOP Peer Support Line is designed specifically for the optical profession. Callers can discuss issues in their home or work life with a trained and empathetic peer.

While callers are not provided with advice, volunteers will listen to their concerns and signpost sources of practical advice and information, where appropriate.

Dr Rosie Allister, who provided training to the volunteers, highlighted to OT that professionals could be hesitant about calling more general helplines.

“They want to speak with someone who naturally understands what they are going through,” she explained.

“There’s all of this knowledge in a profession and sometimes it’s easier to speak with someone who gets it and you can just talk about what’s going on for you,” Dr Allister added.

She is the manager of Vetlife Helpline and a researcher at the University of Edinburgh.

Dr Allister explained that while some might think that an issue had to be really bad before contacting a helpline, volunteers welcomed all calls.

 “It can just be a bad day…As professionals we often feel a duty to seem like we’re not struggling and to say that everything is fine even when it’s not,” she elaborated.

Optometrist and Peer Support Line chair Thurka Sivapalan outlined to OT how the service helped callers to gain clarity and relief in a challenging situation.

“That first vital step often begins with talking about it,” she emphasised.

“We know that practitioners can sometimes feel overwhelmed and I’m glad to be part of a service which addresses that – giving individuals a dedicated space to share those worries, unburden themselves and gain access to emotional support,” Ms Sivapalan added.

The development of the AOP Peer Support Line follows research into the health and wellbeing of UK optometrists in 2016 that found half of optometrists frequently worked to tight deadlines, while 63% said they did not have enough time to balance work and family responsibilities.

AOP chief executive, Henrietta Alderman, told OT that the service responded to the need for a different kind of support outside the AOP’s established legal, clinical and regulatory advice.

“We developed this service to help alleviate the kinds of pressure felt by optical professionals and to strengthen the support network available in the sector,” Ms Alderman concluded.