Callers to Samaritans worried about spending Christmas alone

Charity says number of people ringing helpline this year has been unprecedented

Spending Christmas without family and loved ones is one of the biggest concerns among callers to Samaritans, the charity has said.

A survey of its volunteers show that almost a third of the callers said they were feeling concerned about their wellbeing over Christmas.

The majority of people said they are worried about being separated from family and coping with being lonely during Christmas or having to spend the holidays alone.

Niall Mulligan, executive director for Samaritans Ireland, said the calls this year has been “unprecedented” with the pandemic affecting many people’s health and wellbeing.

Samaritans volunteers in Ireland answered almost 40,000 calls in December 2019.

More than 50 volunteers answered over 1,150 calls and written contacts on Christmas Day alone.

Mr Mulligan said: “Some may not be able to visit family or friends, others may have family oversees who cannot travel home, and for others missing normal events, like Christmas mass or socialising in the local pub, can be devastating.

“We know that people struggle more at Christmas, as it’s a time when loneliness can really hit home.”

Among the volunteers on duty this Christmas Day will be Bernie Keane and her brother Thomas Carbery, who will be on duty together in Samaritans’ Waterford branch.

Ms Keane said it is “no sacrifice” to volunteer on Christmas night as she loves being there for others when they need someone to talk to.

Ms Keane, who joined Samaritans 12 years ago, said: “I find it very rewarding to volunteer on Christmas Day.

“A lot of places close for Christmas, like care and day centres, and there are very lonely people, some with mental health issues, who may not see anyone for the whole of Christmas.

“Giving them 15 minutes just to talk to someone can make a difference.

“They may not be suicidal, but they’re so lonely.

“Other callers may have had a fall out with family members or other issues may surface like bereavement.”

Mr Carbery joined Samaritans five years ago when he retired as a sergeant in the Irish Defence Forces.

“It can be hard sometimes on a particular call, but at the end of that call when someone says thank you for being there it feels good.

“You can’t get that feeling anywhere else,” he said.

“It’s nice to be there at Christmas when people need you and when they do not have anyone else to chat to.

“You could be the only person they talk to all day.

“It’s a good feeling to know you have been there for that person.

“It’s definitely been hard for people this year.”

Samaritans wants to mark the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice on Monday, December 21, by landmarks illuminating in green.

Dublin’s Convention Centre, The Rock of Cashel, Kilkenny Castle, Millmount in Drogheda and Limerick County Council offices are among those taking part to raise awareness of the Samaritans service.

Samaritans volunteers are available 24/7 on freephone 116 123 or email