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Samaritans say make time and listen

By Susan Gately - 20 December, 2013

Calls expected to surge over Christmas as organisations and services close.

SamaThe number of callers to the Samaritans helpline will grow at Christmas, and the biggest percentage of calls will come from people suffering from loneliness, the Director of the Dublin Samaritans has warned.

Last year around 80,000 ‘contacts’ were made to the charity, mostly by phone or in face to face situations.

“The numbers are definitely up this year,” Brendan Gallagher, Director of Dublin Samaritans, told CatholicIreland.net.

The new director of the Dublin branch believes the service should operate with a particular ‘dynamic’. “When we reach out to someone who is distressed or suicidal, we confer a dignity on our caller – we acknowledge their situation, we affirm them as people, we respect their despair.”

“In turn, our callers confer a dignity on us – our callers give us the volunteers the opportunity to be greater than the sum of our parts – it is a very rare privileged moment of human encounter.”listening

Around 2,000 volunteers man the lines of the Samaritans’ 1850 number in Ireland  in 12 centres.

Some branches like Dublin and Cork are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Calls rotate among the branches. There is complete confidentiality and the Samaritans never know where a call is coming from.

“Loneliness is the biggest issue at Christmastime,” Mr Gallagher said. “From Monday (23 December) to Friday (27 December) a lot of the psychiatric services are closed. Even organisations like Aware divert calls to the Samaritans, so there is a surge in calls.”

Brendan Gallagher will be doing a stint of volunteering himself on the phone lines over Christmas, leading by example.

“We’re trying to get our volunteers to understand that this fortnight is the most important one in the year, and it will take a sacrifice from us all.”

His advice on listening could be applied to all people trying to reach out to others: do not focus on ‘problem solving’, he says, but on ‘the feelings’ of your caller.

“We should let the person know that we care about how they are and that we want to be there for them,” he said. “A crisis for one person may be simply a new challenge for another. So don’t define in your own mind what a crisis is. We should find a space where there are going to be no interruptions.”

Indicating your willingness to make time and space to listen to someone, he suggests practical things like turning off mobile phones, radio, i-pods.

“Close a window so as to avoid distracting noises. Put away your watch, if you are wearing one, so that you are not distracted. Make time. Don’t have an appointment or a deadline to meet.”

While ‘active listening’ is a technique of the mind and the heart, there can be a structure to a conversation. Above all, he advises, “always engage the heart ; unconditional love is the first point of departure in the affairs of the heart and cannot be feigned”.

The Samaritans helpline is: 1850 60 90 90 (ROI) and from Northern Ireland: 08457 909090.

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