Samaritans Ireland received more calls from midnight to 6am than at any other time during the day over the last year, according to the organisation’s 2012-2013 Impact Report.
The report launch was followed by a briefing by volunteers from Athlone and Midlands Samaritans for their local politicians.
According to the report, 37 per cent of calls to Samaritans’ helpline in the past year took place from midnight to 6am. Midnight to 1am on Friday and Saturday nights were the busiest times of the week. Out of hours calls to Samaritans were up by 9 per cent on 2012, and accounted for 68 per cent of all calls to the service.
Almost 10,000 people had face to face contact with Samaritans in 2013, which is a 14 per cent increase on last year. While the number of calls received by Samaritans fell by 7 per cent on last year the number of contacts through other mediums increased by 18 per cent.
Speaking at the launch of the report, Catherine Brogan, executive director of Samaritans Ireland, said: “A number of dynamics have resulted in changes to the type and timing of contacts to Samaritans in 2013. For starters, we are noticing that night-time periods are increasingly busy with more calls coming through, and these calls are lasting longer.
“This – in our experience – is down to the fact that there are now more day-time services and helplines available and as part of our partnership work, many of these divert into Samaritans’ service after hours. It highlights the vital need to have a resilient, reliable and available support service round the clock, particularly when other front line services are closed. It’s clear that increasingly, Samaritans is acting as a safety net for all of Ireland’s emotional support services.
“Our vision has always been the same, but in order to remain relevant, the way we listen has changed. We’re seeing a marked increase in the number of people who are contacting us by other mediums.
“A whole generation of people are now coming through that don’t instinctively pick up the phone. They prefer to use email or text as a mode of communication. Samaritans is responding to this by ensuring that our volunteers are trained to support people through this mode of contact.
“We’re also making efforts to make ourselves more visible and let people know that they can drop in to any of our 12 branches around the country. These efforts are significantly bolstering our face-to-face contacts.”
Samaritans said that the decrease in the number of telephone callers was the result of a combination of factors. According to Ms Brogan: “To start with, calls are climbing down from an all-time-high of just over 400,000 in 2010/11 when the impacts of austerity were really begin felt. Some of the decrease in calls could be down to the fact that some people are feeling more hopeful about the future.
“However, we are also acutely aware – from the nature of calls to our service – that lots of people are still hurting. There has been a marked shift away from landline usage to mobiles, and this introduced an additional cost factor to people considering a call to Samaritans. With the launch of our free-to-caller number – 116 123 – next year, this barrier will be removed.”
The issues of most concern to callers in 2013 related to family and relationship problems; depression and mental health issues; loneliness and stress and anxiety. These mirrored the most common issues for callers last year. “With many of these issues, having the opportunity to talk them through with a trained listener offers huge relief. Where Samaritans feels a person could benefit from a greater intervention, we sign-post them to alternative services so that they can access the support they need.”
The director of Athlone and Midlands Samaritans, Teresa Bell, paid tribute to volunteers: Samaritans Ireland is the longest-serving organisation in the area of emotional support and suicide prevention. It is volunteer-led, with 2,000 people volunteering around the country and 63 active volunteers in the Athlone and Midlands branch.
“Volunteers are the beating heart of Samaritans, delivering the core support service, running all branches, raising vital funds, and raising awareness of the work we do. Each volunteer spends 15 hours on average each month as a listener and undergoes a rigorous programme of initial and ongoing training. Our volunteers are ordinary people who provide a safe space to talk and we will be looking to expand our volunteer base over the coming year.”
The impact report launched by Samaritans covers the period from the beginning of November 2012 to the end of October 2013.
Samaritans’ helpline number is 1850 60 90 90. • samaritans.ie.