Almost 500,000 calls to Samaritans in busiest year

Charity says callers starting to see contact as first port of call rather than last resort

The number of calls to Samaritans has increased by 52 per cent since the charity introduced a free phone line in March. Photograph: David Cheskin/PA Wire

The number of calls to Samaritans has increased by 52 per cent since the charity introduced a free phone line in March. Photograph: David Cheskin/PA Wire

 

Mental health charity Samaritans recorded its busiest ever year in 2014 after it introduced a free phone service.

The organisation answered more than 470,000 phone calls, 12,000 emails and 8,000 text messages over the past 12 months, according to its Impact Report for Ireland.

Executive director of Samaritans Ireland Catherine Brogan said there is no longer a barrier to contacting the charity. “Since we removed the significant cost of a phone call . . . there is no longer a barrier for anyone who is struggling to cope to contact us any time of the day or night.”

The organisation previously operated a low-cost number but a deal negotiated with the telecommunications industry, the Government and the National Office for Suicide Prevention now enables people to get in touch for free. The charity experienced a 52 per cent increase in calls since the switch in March.

Samaritans received an average of 1,310 contacts a day in the 12 months from October 2013 to September 2014, an increase of 266 calls a day on average compared to the previous year.

Ms Brogan said callers are also starting to contact the charity sooner. “People are beginning to see us as their first port of call,” she said. “People don’t have to be suicidal to contact us.”

About 70 per cent of the calls come from mobile phones and the issues raised have remained consistent over the years: financial issues, family problems, loneliness and anxiety.

One volunteer said they receive a lot of calls from elderly people in particular around Christmas time. “They could be waiting for their children to get in touch with them but they don’t – so they feel lonely,” she said.

Minister of State with responsibility for mental health Kathleen Lynch said the benefits of switching to a free phone number were clear. “I hope that the telecoms industry now recognise the benefit of that partnership,” she said.

The increase in calls to the charity also highlights “the great need that is out there” for mental health support, she said. Samaritans can be contacted over the phone on 116 123 or at www.samaritans.ie