Every six seconds a person in need contacts Samaritans, whether by phone, text, email or face-to-face, just wanting to talk to another human.
Across 201 branches, which are scattered all over the UK and Republic of Ireland, 20,000 amazing volunteers work around the clock, 365 days a year, to be there for anybody who needs them.
Last year, Samaritans responded to an astonishing 5.7 million calls for help, just person to person in complete confidentiality.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Samaritans, they’re a charity providing free support to anyone who’s struggling to cope, whether feeling suicidal or just need someone to talk to.
People contact the charity for a wide variety of reasons and their correspondence is always anonymous and confidential.
Despite donating their time to answer these cries for help, which often save people’s lives, the Samaritans’ volunteers remain forgotten heroes.
UNILAD met Rachel at her local branch – an office worker by day who’s been volunteering at the Samaritans for the past 18 months.
She explained to us what exactly a Samaritans volunteer does:
So I’m a listening volunteer – my role is to turn up to a shift and be there for anybody who needs us.
What’s special about Samaritans is we’re confidential and so anyone can call us and know whatever they talk about, stays between them and the Samaritans.
I tend to do a shift a week and an overnight every six weeks – the shifts vary between two-and-a-half and four hours during the day and the overnight shift is from 11pm to 3am but it can vary.
Every shift is completely different, you never quite know what you’re going to get – sometimes you could have a call lasting for the entirety of the shift while other calls can last for a couple of minutes.
We also get silent calls where we just sit with people and be there for them when they may not have the words just yet.
Rachel and her fellow volunteers also respond to texts and emails and meet people who drop into the branch for face-to-face meetings.
Before becoming a volunteer Rachel had a vague understanding of what the charity did but after doing some research and realising just what an amazing service they offer, she decided to apply, wanting to help.
I’ve been really lucky in my life that I’ve had friends, family and sometimes even strangers who’ve been there for me when I’ve gone through tough times.
Becoming a Samaritan was about giving back and being there for people who might not have anyone to turn to.
I was pleasantly surprised by the training which was something special – it takes around eight weeks depending upon the schedule of each branch.
You get the opportunity to learn real listening skills and practice them while meeting experienced volunteers who are willing to share their experiences with you.
Once training was over Rachel started volunteering – alongside 20,000 others – 180 of which work at her branch.
Describing it as ‘almost like being part of a community’, she’s full of praise for her team saying: ‘it’s a privilege to be a part of it’.
You can watch the full interview with Rachel here:
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Due to the confidential nature of the charity, Rachel couldn’t discuss with us details of calls she’s answered, however, she did say they fell into four categories:
We get a lot of people calling us because they’re feeling suicidal – they could be in the process of ending their life, they may have plans to end their life or they may have suicidal feelings.
We have calls from people who are experiencing struggles and challenges with everyday situations e.g. financial pressures, bereavement, drugs and alcohol.
We also support prisoners and we find a lot of our callers are calling us because they’re lonely – they may have friends and family but feel lonely or they may not have anyone at all.
All these people need someone to talk to, no matter what reason it is we’ll be there to pick up the phone and we’ll do it with compassion and without judgement.
No matter how big or small your problem is, a volunteer will respond and most importantly, listen.
It must be hard dealing with these difficult but important calls – Rachel admitted how at first, the idea of it made her nervous.
However, she told UNILAD Samaritans provide plenty of support to the volunteers as well as the callers:
It’s only human some of us feel a little nervous when we come to shift but as soon as we’re in the duty room, have had a cup of tea and said hello to the fellow volunteers, those feelings disappear.
You know you’re there and ready to make it about that caller.
Becoming a Samaritan has helped me personally by teaching me how to listen, to be there and use all your energy on hearing what that person has to say without making any assumptions or judgements.
There’s help and support every step of the way, including a website just for Samaritans, and so if you’re thinking of applying, I wouldn’t hesitate and just go for it.
— Samaritans (@samaritans) December 3, 2017
Once the call or correspondence has ended, Samaritans volunteers have no idea what happens to the people they speak to due to the confidentiality.
Rachel admitted dealing with this is one of the hardest things about being a volunteer:
We learn to almost let go at the end of a call. We do build a human connection at the end of the phone but we don’t know who that caller is and will never know.
We have to be able to let go of that at the end of a call. We have the support there for us if we ever feel we need to talk about that.
As a part of their training Samaritans learn to not use scripts opting instead for empathy, pauses and open-ended questions with every call being different.
Unlike other services the charity operates 365 days a year meaning they even take calls over Christmas and Rachel continued:
When people think about Christmas they think of happy times and family and presents but for a lot of our callers, this isn’t what Christmas is like.
We often find people can feel a little bit more lonely over Christmas, they may be grieving the loss of a loved one and it can be particularly painful or they may be remembering sad times they’ve had around this period.
We’ll always be there for people no matter what time of year it is.
Reflecting on her time with the Samaritans so far, Rachel says it’s been ‘some of the most rewarding of her life’:
I’ve learnt a huge amount about myself and what it means to really listen and be there for somebody – I’ve been extremely fortunate to meet some amazing volunteers who’ve given up their time to be there for others.
I’ve also made friends through Samaritans with people who otherwise I wouldn’t have met through day-to-day life which I’m grateful for.
If you want to find out more about how you can apply to be a volunteer, you can visit their website.
If you need help or support, you can contact the Samaritans for free from any telephone on 116 123. Don’t suffer in silence.
Emily Murray is a journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA in English Literature and History before studying for a Masters in Journalism at the University of Salford. Emily has previously worked for the BBC, ITV and Trinity Mirror. When Emily isn’t writing about topics including mental health and entertainment, you can find her at the cinema which is her second home.