Samaritans Ireland answered a call for help every 56 seconds in 2020, a new report has revealed.
Samaritans recently published its Impact Report for 2020, a year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and all the changes that has wrought on our lives. They listened for over 100,000 hours during the first year of COVID restrictions (March 2020 to March 2021), kept their helpline running 24/7, piloted online chat in three branches, and spent 11 minutes on the phone to each caller, on average.
Samaritans of Kildare are based in Newbridge town, not far from the train station and shopping centre. What they provide is a 24/7 non advice and non-judgemental listening service, giving support for anyone who is emotionally distressed or experiencing suicidal feelings. They also provide outreach support and prison services and currently have around 100 volunteers in the Kildare branch that are committed to help the general public the best they can by giving their time to those on the phone or by email.
Shane O’Dwyer, the Director of the Kildare branch, gave a rather staggering figure of approximately 45,000 calls a year that “our volunteers would take.” Speaking about the pandemic and lockdowns, he said “we were expecting a drop-off in our volunteers during that period and in actual fact we didn’t have the drop-off, so people rolled up their sleeves and got stuck in… we put the procedures in place with the social distancing, the masks, the hand sanitisation and everything.”
Shane noted that the big thing during the pandemic was loneliness – “we all know this ourselves, you know, we had grandparents who couldn’t meet their grandchildren, they couldn’t get out, they were locked down, and loneliness in itself causes anxiety.” That, he said, was a key element of calls.
I asked if they were able to take on new volunteers in 2020 and he explained that it was a bit curtailed. “Our recruitment process is quite strenuous training, it’s good training, and people come in on a weekly basis and it’s face to face. We’d to change all that,” he recalled. “We had to change that to online… the process had started prior to COVID and there were people that had signed up, so we were able to train them online… during 2020.”
Shane said they run two training sessions a year, around March and October, and “on average we have 12 on each of those shifts. So a year, we’re taking in 24/25 new volunteers into the branch.
“During the pandemic, that was obviously down, we had only one session, we’d only one intake of recruits or of new volunteers… but we managed to get through it, you know. ‘Adapt and overcome’, isn’t that what they say?”
There is some light at the end of the COVID tunnel – vaccination figures are very high, restrictions are easing and there’s hope that some sort of normality can return to life in the not-too-distant future.
Shane remarked that “times have changed, we all know that, it’s different, you know, we have to be more careful… since the easing of restrictions we’re adapting, you know, we’ll be able to have… more engagement which we want to do, we’ll be able to get out there. Whether we can get up to Whitewater and do our Christmas carol at Christmas is debatable, but there’s certain things we’ll be looking at and we have to come up with a winter plan, I suppose, to adapt to whatever the situation will be.”
You can call Samaritans for free, any time and from any phone, on 116 123 or email [email protected]