1140 GMT August 20, 2019
The Samaritans is a registered charity aimed at providing emotional support to anyone in emotional distress, struggling to cope, or at risk of suicide throughout the UK and Ireland, often through their telephone helpline.
The charity’s helpline, which offers confidential support to millions of people, received 11,000 calls for help on Christmas Day 2017 and about 400,000 throughout all of last December, theguardian.com reported.
The helpline anticipated getting even more calls over the same month this year, with the charity highlighting the issue of loneliness and isolation among young and old people.
British Prime Minister Theresa May singled out loneliness as one of the greatest public health challenges facing the nation, as, in October, she launched a strategy to try to combat the issue.
As well as loneliness, the other main issues raised by callers to the Samaritans on December 25 were relationship issues such as violence, bereavement, drug, misuse and physical and mental health issues.
Although there was no increase in number of calls on Christmas Day compared with days throughout the rest of the year, there has often been a spike of people ringing the helpline early in the morning and late at night on December 25.
As many as 20,000 trained volunteers attend Samaritans’ helpline round the clock, throughout the year, at 201 branches in the UK and Ireland – fielding more than 5 million calls, emails and texts. On Christmas Day 1,500 people do shifts for the charity.
Among those volunteering this year will be Emma Gale, who called the helpline herself two years ago after suffering suicidal thoughts as she struggled with health problems.
The 42-year-old, who has two children and volunteers in the charity’s Weymouth branch, said, “In the run-up to Christmas 2016, I was sent home from hospital. I felt ill, very lonely and a burden to everyone around me. I decided my family would be far better off without me and made plans to end my life. After driving to a quiet spot I decided to call Samaritans for the first and only time in my life. I just needed someone to talk to, so I didn’t feel so alone.
“The impact of that call was huge, it was a listening nonjudgmental ear. From there, my life completely turned around. The next day I went to a hospital appointment and I got a diagnosis for a rare genetic condition. I will never forget what that Samaritan did for me that Christmas, they gave me the biggest gift possible – the gift of life.”
Another volunteer taking to the phones on Christmas Day will be 61-year-old Mary Deery, from Derry, Northern Ireland, who has worked with the helpline for 14 years.
Deery, who has six children and cares fulltime for her son who has a learning disability and epilepsy, said, “Until you’ve sat in a Samaritans phone room and taken those calls over Christmas you have no idea how tough it can be for a lot of people. Some people assume Samaritans are only about suicide prevention, but there’s so much more to what we do, so many issues we deal with on a daily basis. Christmas feels like a condensed version of that, people’s problems seem to be turned up a notch at this time of year. It can be tough, but it also makes it extremely rewarding.”