At 18 years old, Bethan became the youngest listening volunteer at Wakefield & District Samaritans.
Here, she speaks about her experience…
The idea of joining the Samaritans began when I was just 15, when two volunteers came into one of my lessons at school and told us what the Samaritans were about. Never having heard of them, I found it very interesting and thought about how rewarding it would be to volunteer for them. Since then, the idea of becoming a Samaritan when I reached 18 had been in my mind.
At the age of 16, I developed an interest in psychology, which led me to take the notion of joining the Samaritans much more seriously. I could see that this would broaden my understanding of some aspects of psychology as well as doing something good.
One of the main challenges I faced was what people would think of my age.
At first, I didn’t expect to be the only person who was 18 at the information and selection events. After spending a day with other potential volunteers, who all had the advantage of age and life experience, I didn’t expect to get a call in the evening telling me that I had been selected to go on and train be a volunteer. I was happy, surprised and nervous at the same time. From then on I realised that my age wasn’t a problem. I received the very best welcome into the Samaritans from fellow volunteers, and even went on to do more than just listen to people on the phone. I took part in doing talks at schools, helped out with publicity and I recently became a ‘leader’.
Although some callers may ask if I’m old enough to be a Samaritan or even ask to speak to an older volunteer, I’m not offended because I understand that they want to feel as comfortable as possible in their time of need.
As can be imagined, there is a lot of training that needs to be completed before a volunteer can pick up the phone. After all, talking to a person in severe distress who is potentially suicidal requires a lot of responsibility and skill.
The level of commitment worried me at first as I was in the middle of studying for my A2’s. However, once the first set of training was over, doing one shift every two weeks and a night shift every 5 weeks was no problem.
The training was incredibly comprehensive and the volunteers on the training team were dedicated, helpful, committed and very supportive. I learnt more through the training than just how to be a Samaritan. Everything I learnt is applicable to life.
Many amazing opportunities have arisen as a result of becoming a Samaritan. I became part of a wonderful, caring team and became involved in lots of different aspects of the charity that allowed me to grow as an individual.
The rewarding feeling that you get when a caller says ‘thank you for listening’ is enough to keep you motivated through the more difficult calls.
Another great thing about being a Samaritan, is that employers and Universities recognise that I have a unique set of skills and a strong level of commitment and dedication, giving me stand-out qualities from other applicants.
I now understand a lot more about mental health and can see issues that we have in understanding and treating mental illness. These issues are incredibly important and it is good to have an insight into them, especially from a psychological perspective.
I would encourage anyone at any age to become involved with the Samaritans. It doesn’t just mean you will be helping a lot of people in their time of need, but you’ll be more capable of helping people who you care about, as well as learning a lot about yourself.
I am happy that I became a volunteer and feel proud to call myself a Samaritan. It is an incredible charity with even more incredible volunteers.
Although you have to be 18 to be a listening volunteer, you can begin training at 17, as long as you are 18 by the time you finish.
If you’re under the age of 18 but keen on volunteering, Wakefield & District Samaritans run a scheme for young people aged 13-17, called Wakefield Young Samaritans Ambassadors (WYSA) – click here to find out more.