Samaritans' confidentiality and when we might need to tell someone

Samaritans has recently reviewed its policies to clarify our approach to supporting our callers, those who have or may be at risk of experiencing serious harm or other threats to their personal safety and wellbeing and who are unable to make decisions for themselves.

Samaritans offers our callers a confidential service as we believe providing people a safe place to talk means that those who need to, will contact us.

How we help

We listen to you to give you the space to talk about your feelings, as we believe this helps you find the best way to resolve your own difficulties.  As well as listening, we might ask you some questions to help you explore your feelings and to help you consider other options which may be able to help you.

What happens if you tell us you or someone else has been hurt?

When we are worried about your safety or that you are being hurt either by your own actions or by someone else, we want to help you to find the best way to keep yourself safe.  We will do this by listening and by talking to you about what you want to do.  Most of the time whatever you tell us will stay between you and Samaritans.

However if we feel that you are unable to make decisions for yourself sometimes we might need to tell someone else what you’ve told us to be able to help you. This will apply to all young people under 13 and under some circumstances to older children and adults. If for example, you are not able to make a decision about your own safety because you don’t understand the risks, if you cannot remember the situation you are in, or if you lose consciousness whilst you are on the phone to us. We can only help in these situations if we have information which identifies you.

In other less urgent situations we may be able to help with other information like:

  • First and second name
  • Where someone lives
  • Where someone works or studies
  • Someone’s address
  • Someone’s e-mail address
  • Someone’s mobile or home phone number
  • Someone’s exact location at the time.

It is important to know that you can decide what information you choose to share with us.

Even if you have told us this information, it does not mean we will automatically tell someone else.  We would always want to help you to explore your feelings about your situation and to help you make the decisions that are right for you, we will ask you questions when talking to you to help you do this, and to make sure we understand what you are telling us.

If we determine that we do need tell someone else these are of some of the things that might happen:

  • Your details may be passed to people who'll be able to get help to you, like the ambulance service
  • If you're in immediate danger of being hurt by someone else, we may ask the police to come and check, or do something to make sure that you're safe
  • If you’ve told us that a child is in danger, we may need to get them help.  Sometimes the only way of doing that will be to contact you and ask you for more details.  It may be the police that help us with this
  • We might ask social services to arrange to speak to you and see how they might be able to help you.  

If you do not share your details with us, we are unable to contact you other than replying to an SMS or email you may have sent us.  For further guidance, please refer to information on keeping things private at your end.

We take your confidentiality very seriously and will only consider speaking to someone else if we are really worried about what you have told us and we feel that you are unable to make decisions.

In Republic of Ireland things are a little bit different.

Samaritans offers all our callers a safe space to talk, without judgement, but if you tell us something that makes us worried about the safety of a child we will have to consider sharing the information outside of Samaritans.

In Republic of Ireland we are required to report any concerns we have about a child who has been experiencing harm or other threats to their personal safety and wellbeing, either from their own actions or the actions of others.

If you are a child who has experienced harm or is at risk of harm, and you give us information which identifies you, or if you provide information about a child in these circumstances, we may contact the relevant services.

If you provide information that identifies someone who has caused harm or says they are going to cause harm to a child we may also contact the relevant services.  This information might include:

  • First and second name
  • Where someone lives
  • Where someone works or studies
  • Someone’s address
  • Someone’s e-mail address
  • Someone’s mobile or home phone number
  • Someone’s exact location at the time

We may be required to pass on information like this to a social worker through TUSLA - the Child and Family Agency or to the Gardaí in order to protect children in line with Children First legislation.

It is important to know that you can decide what information you choose to share with us.

Samaritans confidentiality policy is in line with best practice, and ‘Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children’ (Department of Children and Youth Affairs, 2011).