The idea that the ‘future is digital’ is well established, and Samaritans - like almost every other major private, public or voluntary sector organisation - has invested time and energy in working out what that might mean for its own services and operation. One example of this is our 2015 Digital Futures project, but Samaritans also has a digital past and present - since 1994 we have offered emotional support via email; and, in 2014, we made a well-publicised, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to launch Samaritans Radar – an app designed to offer people a second chance to see tweets from people they knew who might be struggling to cope.
This report summarises these projects as well as findings from our recent Emotional Distress and Digital Outreach project. The research was conducted by Dr Julie Brownlie and Dr Frances Shaw at Edinburgh University from 2015-2017 and is part of a larger project, A Shared Space and a Space for Sharing project, which explores the role of trust and empathy online for people in extreme circumstances.
The study involved surveys of both users of the email service and Samaritans volunteers and a range of qualitative interviews.