Covid a key factor in calls to Samaritans and a challenge to its funding, committee told

The organisation’s volunteers answered a call for help every 56 seconds last year

Recent callers to the Samaritan's helpline have discussed their anxieties over the easing of Covid-19 restrictions and a return to the new normal, an Oireachtas committee has been told.

The charity, which is aimed at providing support to anyone in emotional distress, said there was a “big spike” in calls around 6pm when the Covid-19 daily figures were released during the pandemic.

Samaritans, which provides the only 24-hour freephone support service on the island, was addressing the sub-committee on mental health on Tuesday morning.

It heard that volunteers answered a call for help every 56 seconds last year. While one in three callers mentioned coronavirus directly, volunteers said it was a feature in almost every call.


Their helpline’s busiest time of the day was from 6pm to 10pm, when over a quarter of its daily calls were answered.

Rory Fitzgerald, Samaritans volunteer and Regional Director for the Republic of Ireland, told the committee "one of the interesting things during Covid, when the daily news figures came out around 6 or 7pm in the evening, that was a big spike [IN CALLS]".

“There was a huge anxiety around that. We would have been telling people ‘limit your news intake’ because that certainly was fuelling, magnifying all the issues that they did have,” he said.

Sinn Féin TD Mark Ward added that the committee met with young people "who said they were sitting with anticipation when the Tánaiste was up making announcements about new restrictions because they knew that was affecting their daily lives".

Niall Mulligan, executive director of Samaritans Ireland, said throughout 2020 and 2021 loneliness and isolation had been among the top reasons people called the charity.

“We also supported people with a mental health crisis – some whose services were impacted by restrictions - and thousands of people with family or relationship issues, job or financial insecurity worries, people experiencing bereavement, and high levels of anxiety over the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.


“More recently, callers are discussing their anxieties over the easing of restrictions, their fears associated with this easing, and a return to the new normal.”

Mr Fitzgerald said the charity’s 13 branches had “coped okay” financially during the pandemic but that he could see a challenge going forward with the decline of cash.

“The days of collecting money on the street, I would have predicted a couple of years ago, we would see the end of that in five years but Covid has sped that up in terms of coinage disappearing,” he said.

“A lot of our branches could depend on church-gate collections or street collections for maybe 20 per cent of their income. So we’ve a big challenge around how we’re going to manage that and new technology.”

He said it costs €1.3 million a year for the charity to run its 13 branches across the country.

Mr Fitzgerald also said that attitudes to mental health are improving and the key is educating young people, including working with schools and colleges.

“There are still people who have fear of admitting to a mental health issue and particularly in the workplace because that can be looked at very negatively,” he said.

Samaritans can be contacted for free on the 24/7 phone helpline 116 123, or people can email or visit

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times