Galway Samaritans has reported its busiest year to date answering 56,525 calls - an average of 150 a day - in the last 12 months.
Calls to the organisation’s 20 branches in Ireland have risen by 60 per cent since it introduced a freefone number 116 123 in March 2014.
William Browne, the director of Galway Samaritans, says the increase in calls indicates that many people are struggling to cope and need a place to turn to for emotional support.
“Removing the barrier of cost has made it easier for people to access support as they no longer have to worry about call charges,” he says in the foreword to the charity’s annual report.
“It is important that people know that they can talk to us at any time of the day or night about whatever is getting to them. We are here for anyone who needs to talk. It doesn’t matter what kind of problem our callers have, however big or small it may seem compared to the problems other people have.”
He outlines the issues troubling callers have remained much the same over the years. These include family and relationship problems, material difficulties such as money or housing, sexual problems, alcohol issues, bereavement, financial worries, depression, mental health problems, loneliness, stress and anxiety - all of these can lead to suicidal thoughts and outcomes. The Samaritans describe depression as one of the most distressing, disabling and sometimes dangerous issues facing people.
“During periods of recession feelings of depression and anxiety can rise, particularly among those affected by unemployment. We’ve seen an increase in the intensity of the calls that we’ve received over the last year or so - a direct result perhaps of our current economic situation.”
He outlines that the Samaritans has a vision of a society where fewer people die by suicide. “To this end we endeavour to provide confidential, non-judgmental, emotional support to anyone that contacts us, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
“We give callers the opportunity to express their innermost thoughts and feelings, including those which may lead to suicide. We hope that by giving our time and a listening ear to anyone who has these feelings that they will find a positive way forward and that they find it a life affirming experience.”
The Samaritans report states that the increase in the number of people, particularly males, taking their lives in Ireland in recent years is a major cause of concern.
“Suicide is a societal problem and is one of the highest causes of potential life lost for males in Ireland, superseded only by deaths from circulatory diseases, cancers and respiratory diseases. Moreover it is the leading cause of death in young males, exceeding road traffic accidents and cancer. The need to improve the skills of young people in dealing with emotional and other problems in life is a pertinent factor in prevention. Other factors include the high prevalence of depression and alcohol misuse, variable access to primary healthcare, mental health and social services, and the need to develop tailored care plans, especially for young people. We also need greater knowledge and understanding of suicide in modern Ireland.”
Mr Browne says Galway Samaritans has been supporting people for 40 years. “In Galway the first branch in Woodquay opened its doors in May 1976 which means we will mark our 40th anniversary this year. People can find out more about our proposed birthday event on www.sams40.com Our premises in Nuns’ Island is undergoing much needed refurbishment and extension and we are temporarily located at 12 Dock Street. The Galway branch has established a reputation for being there in a quiet and unassuming way for those who need that emotional support.”
• The Galway Samaritans centre is temporarily based at 12 Dock Street and is open from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday and until 8pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Its helpline is in operation 24 hours a day seven days a week and can be contacted at (091 ) 561222 (local call charges apply ) or 116123 (this number is free to call ). People can also email the organisation by contacting [email protected]
• If you are a good listener, are open minded and non-judgmental and are available to carry out a three hour shift per week, plus occasional night duties, then maybe you should consider becoming a volunteer with Galway Samaritans. Training sessions for new volunteers will take place in the autumn. People are also needed to help with the charity’s awareness campaign, to give talk in schools and organisations on behalf of the organisation, or to fundraise on its behalf. For further information email [email protected]