Every six seconds somebody in need contacts Samaritans either by phone, text, email or by popping into a local branch to chat face-to-face.
The charity Samaritans provides free and confidential support to anyone who contacts them wanting to talk.
Over 20,000 fantastic volunteers working across 201 branches in the UK and Republic of Ireland respond to millions of calls for help year-on-year with the correspondence always kept anonymous.
In 2016 Samaritans responded to 5.7 million calls from people contacting the charity for numerous reasons with volunteers being unafraid to discuss difficult issues.
Those who donate their time to volunteer at Samaritans can often save people’s lives by answering their cries for help.
But many of these volunteers remain to be forgotten heroes so we must recognise their dedication.
Last Christmas UNILAD met one such hero, a Samaritan called Rachel who had, at the time, been volunteering at her local Samaritans branch for the past 18 months.
As a listening volunteer Rachel is there for anybody who needs her working a regular shift once a week and an overnight shift every six weeks.
She explained to us more about what she does on these shifts saying:
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.
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 also vary.
Every shift is completely different so 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.
While volunteering Rachel will also reply to texts and emails as well as meet the people who drop into the branch for a face-to-face meeting.
You can watch UNILAD’s interview with Rachel below:
While Rachel before volunteering only had a vague understanding of what Samaritans does, when she found out more about the amazing service they provide she decided to apply.
For her, it was a way of giving back to society:
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.
Working alongside 180 other volunteers at her local branch, Rachel enjoys being a ‘part of the community there’ even calling it ‘a privilege’ to be a member of the team.
Because Samaritans ensures all correspondence is kept confidential, Rachel was unable to discuss calls she has answered.
And because every call is different during the training process Samaritans volunteers learn to not use scripts, opting instead for empathy, pauses and open-ended questions.
However, Rachel explained to UNILAD how the calls do fall into one of 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.
It doesn’t matter why you are ringing, a Samaritan will respond and listen.
It also doesn’t matter when you ring either as the charity operates 365 days a year. Samaritans volunteers take calls all over the festive period, including Christmas Day.
Rachel discussed why it is important to be there for people over the festive season:
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.
With many calls being about sensitive and difficult issues, Rachel admitted how at first she was nervous about the idea of answering them but soon realised why it is important to do so.
Once the call is over or the correspondence has ended, volunteers have no idea what happens next to the people they have just spoken to due to Samaritans’ commitment to confidentiality.
For Rachel, this is one of the hardest things about being a volunteer but she understands the importance of keeping calls confidential:
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.
Rachel added Samaritans provides 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.
With the charity providing help and support every step of the way, including a website just for volunteers, Rachel encourages those who are thinking of applying to ‘just go for it’.
Rachel certainly feels she made the right decision by becoming a Samaritans volunteer describing it as one ‘of the most rewarding’ experiences of her ‘life’.
Reflecting on her time with the charity so far, Rachel said:
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.
We should take a moment this Christmas to be grateful for Rachel and all the Samaritans volunteers.
If you want to find out more about how you can apply to be a volunteer, you can visit the Samaritans website.
Whatever you’re going through, you can call Samaritans free any time, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, from any phone on 116 123. Don’t suffer in silence.
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to [email protected]
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.