An estimated one in eight calls to the Samaritans last year related to the recession and very often concerned financial insecurity.
Heather Pope, the director of the local branch of the charity which received 95 contacts (by telephone, letter, email and visits ) per day in 2010, says the economic downturn is a “big factor” in the organisation’s increase in calls.
The reduction in the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide is also a likely factor, she believes.
About half of the 35,000 contacts with the service last year could have been “silent” ones whereby somebody telephones but cannot talk because they are so “overwhelmed” or are trying to “find the courage” to speak, she says. Some people might call a few times before they pluck up the courage to confide in the Samaritan volunteer.
People of all ages get in touch with the service, according to the director of the Nuns’ Island-based organisation. “We have people who make contact with us for all kinds of problems, such as depression, loneliness, broken relationships, isolation, bullying - anything that causes distress. A lot would have mental health problems and the services [which offer them support] are closed at night.”
The number of people contacting the Samaritans, which offers a listening ear to those feeling down, unhappy, anxious or distressed 24 hours a day 365 days a year, increases significantly each year, according to Ms Pope.
“We find that just being able to talk through a situation can put people’s feelings into perspective and help them find a positive way forward, we hope. Christmas is always busy for us and the branch is open as always. The New Year brings different emotions. Some people hold it together for Christmas but find the New Year very difficult.”
The Samaritans’ annual impact report, which was launched in Dublin recently and highlights the work of the charity’s 12 branches in the Republic, including the Galway branch, revealed that from October 2010 to November 2011, it received 400,357 calls nationally to its helpline. As almost 135,000 of these calls lasted less than 10 seconds or were silent calls, only those where dialogue was established were considered for the impact report.
The number of dialogue calls was 265,445 representing a nine per cent increase on the previous 12 month period. The charity’s volunteers spent a combined 55,611 hours listening to callers. The average number of calls to Samaritans’ helpline each day was 727. The largest volumes of calls was, on average, received between 6pm and midnight. The busiest day during the year was Saturday May 14 when a total of 988 calls were answered. The Samaritans also experienced an increase in the numbers of people calling into its branches around the country for face-to-face support as well as increased communications through text, email and social media platforms.
The number of callers seeking to reverse call charges because they felt they could not afford to pay for the call also rose.
Commenting on the impact report Ms Pope says the organisation hopes to have a free-phone number in 2012 which would open up the service further to those who need it.
“Discussions have been ongoing between ourselves, ComReg, the telecoms providers and the Department of Health about how this may be made possible.
“The Samaritans has been operating in Ireland for almost 50 years. We have experienced periods of economic difficulty before and know the impact this has on people’s emotional well-being. As an organisation, we are making every effort to ensure our capacity is such that we can help more people if demand continues. The service is available for anyone feeling down, unhappy, anxious or distressed 24 hours a day, even when other frontline services are closed.”
Samaritans’ services - in Galway and throughout the country - are delivered by trained volunteers. More than 1,300 people volunteer with the organisation in Ireland. All undergo intensive training, encompassing an introductory programme lasting 16 weeks and a six-month mentoring period on completion of their initial training. They undertake regular training as part of their volunteer commitment to the charity.
The Samaritans’ helpline number is 1850 60 90 90. The Galway Branch is located at 14 Nun’s Island and can be reached on (091 ) 561222.