Words From a Samaritans Volunteer

I think it’s safe to say that most of us have had our fair share of distressing times; whether it’s the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or our mental health taking a down turn, we’ve all needed someone to lean on in troubling times. Unfortunately, we don’t always have someone in our lives that will listen to us, so that’s where the Samaritans come in.

What is Samaritans

Samaritans is a listening service available to anyone who is having difficulty coping or just needs to talk to someone without judgement. This service is available 24/7 365 days a year by either freephone (116 123) or email (jo@samaritans.ie). Though the Samaritans do not offer advice, they are there to support you as you navigate your difficulties. This confidential service never receives any information from you unless you provide it yourself, so if you call up and never even mention your name, the volunteer will never know.

When people hear of the Samaritans, they tend to presume that the service is for extreme circumstances and not just for daily struggles. But, in fact, only about 1 in 5 callers have suicidal thoughts and even less so are actively suicidal; a vast majority of callers are just going through a difficult time and need someone to talk to.

My Own Experience as a Listening Volunteer

I decided to volunteer with the Samaritans after a friend from college mentioned that she had just started training. In the past, I have certainly been in a position where even one call to the Samaritans would have really benefited me, but I was not aware of the service at the time. So, as I had been fortunate enough to be in a position where I could help others at the time, I went to the Samaritans website and submitted an enquiry form. I was then invited to an information session and an interview to see whether this new role was suited for me or not.

Then, in September 2019, I started my journey as a Samaritans volunteer. The next nine or so weeks were spent in training where all new recruits were introduced to various different topics that we may encounter during calls and how best to approach them, with incredible support from the training team. With a mix of informational slides, open discussions, and role-playing, I felt more than prepared for the role. Following this training another interview was held, exploring if the role was still suitable or not.

After my training and interview, I was assigned a mentor who I spent the next few weeks answering calls with. I initially observed how she spoke to different callers and soon after she walked me through my first calls, giving advice after on how I handled each one and supporting and encouraging me during each duty. This time with your mentor lasts as long as you both feel it is needed and, honestly, I was a bit nervous to start taking calls by myself, but I’m so grateful that my wonderful mentor could sense this and did a few extra sessions with me to ensure I was comfortable moving forward.

As a fully trained volunteer, I now sign up for one three hour duty each week and one night duty each month. While on duty, I spend my time between replying to emails and answering phone calls. When the phone rings I’ll greet the caller by letting them know they have reached the Samaritans and usually ask how they are feeling, and then follow from there. Every call is different as everyone has their own individual problems that they want to talk about and their own individual way of doing so. Some people prefer to let all their worries flow out while others take some coaxing, but what everyone has in common is that all they want is the space to speak freely about what is troubling them without judgement from those who are listening.

I cannot even begin to describe how amazing it feels to know that someone is hanging up the phone in a better mood than when they first picked it up, and I’m not talking about them suddenly being cured of all their problems, but knowing that being able to speak about their issues has given this person the briefest moment of relief is why I and so many other volunteers continue to do this work.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m only human and sometimes it’s hard to not to hold on to the emotions that some calls bring up in myself, but the Samaritans have such a great support system in place for its volunteers. At the end of every duty, the volunteers call the assigned leader to offload and speak about anything that has bothered them. By now, I have learned to leave my Samaritan cap at the door as I’m walking out, returning to my personal life, but sometimes it’s not that easy, and that’s when the amazing leaders come in.

So, next time you’re feeling down and can’t seem to find anyone around you to talk to about these feelings with, please do call or email the Samaritans. There’s always someone on the end of the phone wanting to give you the space to talk and relieve some of the pain. Sometimes, it’s much easier to speak to a stranger, who has no preconceived ideas of you, than it is those closest to you.

If you would like to talk to someone, contact Samaritans via freephone 116123 or email jo@samaritans.ie

If you’re interested in volunteering, please visit the Samaritans information page found here

Written by Nicole Russell, a volunteer with the Limerick Mental Health Association and psychology graduate of the University of Limerick.