Busiest year for Samaritans as economic collapse takes toll

Thu, Dec 20, 2012, 00:00

Samaritans Ireland recorded its busiest year to date in 2012, with more than 400,000 calls to volunteers, many prompted by the recession.

The charity also said it had experienced more complex and detailed exchanges with people than ever before and a 17 per cent increase in the number of people attending its offices in person.

Calls are lasting 6 per cent longer on average, making up more than 57,400 hours of “listening time” and painting a deteriorating picture of a society in crisis. One in six of these calls is directly related to the economic collapse and its effects.

At the launch yesterday of its 2012 Impact Report, the charity outlined the main concerns of callers: mortgage foreclosures; relationship and family stresses; general financial difficulties and the prospect of unemployment.

“We get people talking to us about the fear of losing their home,” said Samaritans Ireland chairman Pio Fenton.

“Even in the good times, that is something that is wired into the Irish DNA anyway. So you can imagine what it’s like now.”

There was also a recorded increase in the number of calls in the days immediately following the budget, although it is unclear if this was a direct consequence of it.

What is certain, though, is the continued deterioration in the lives of Irish families due to economic hardship, as illustrated by those contacting the Samaritan’s 1,400 volunteers.

Executive director Suzanne Costello said that while there was an escalation in contact, this was not a strictly negative development.

“It is important to note that although the increase in the duration of calls reflects a level of stress and anxiety, it also reflects a willingness among people to talk about their problems,” she said.

“There is also a notable improvement in the ease of engagement with our face-to-face outreach services.”

In total 412,167 calls were made to the helpline to date this year, many of which are from people who hang up almost instantly.

Samaritans volunteers receive dedicated training enabling them to offer support to callers and the message they are trying to get out is that it is never too early to call – problems are never too “minor”.

The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Kathleen Lynch, who attended yesterday’s launch, said there was a degree of unwarranted anxiety surrounding the budget which had manifested itself in calls to the helpline.

“It is the type of stress, I think, that is caused [by] a sort of ‘heightened anxiety’ that we need to deal with: worrying about things that didn’t happen; worrying about things that may happen,” she said.

“But then how do you say that to someone, for instance, who is an old-age pensioner or who is totally reliant on State benefit?

“And how do you say that to them, that they are worrying unnecessarily when in fact their concerns are real?”

She added that the volume of calls was a clear indication of the importance of the service.

“As we approach the Christmas holidays I know Samaritans volunteers are scheduling round-the-clock shifts to ensure they are available to those who need emotional support.”