Samaritans have run a service in Whitehaven since 1967. Their purpose is to provide support for those in distress and who may be suicidal. Most callers though, are not suicidal, but have problems and issues in their lives which they struggle to cope with.
Christmas is often a time when there is more social connection. It is known that this is a strong protective factor for suicidal and depressive feelings. However, Christmas is also a time when people can feel separated from the high spirits and festivities they see around them. Feelings of loneliness and isolation can be exacerbated at this time of year, whether a person is alone, or in a crowd. Last year, one in three calls to Samaritans on Christmas Day were from people who felt lonely and isolated. Nationally, last year, Samaritans had more than 13,000 calls for help and emotional support on Christmas Day. Exploring feelings can be an immense help to finding solutions to distress. Talking about suicide is very difficult. Talking about these feelings to someone who will not judge you, or tell you what to do, can be an enormous help.
Samaritans is available on a free number (116123) 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. There is no caller ID on the phones, and e-mail and text services are encrypted to preserve anonymity and confidentiality. If a caller telephones the Samaritans number it will not show up on their account.
Samaritans began as a suicide prevention service in London in 1953. The principles under which they function have been copied around the world and are part of an umbrella organisation called ‘Befrienders’ Worldwide’. Similar organisations exist in 32 countries from Thailand to Kenya, to Australia, Zimbabwe and Canada. All are non-religious and non-denominational.
Whitehaven Samaritans are now in their 53rd year of providing support services. They train ordinary people – professional experience or qualifications are not required to be a volunteer.
A Samaritan’s spokesman said: “You may think you could not do this work. But you probably can. Full training and support is given to volunteers. We have volunteers who work full-time in completely unrelated fields: retail, HR, engineering, IT, building construction, and more, or who are retired, or who do not do paid work. If you think you might be interested in volunteering, check the Samaritans national website or the local website (Samaritans of West Cumbria). The next training course begins in March 2020.”