Samaritans branches across Ireland are marking the Longest Night of the year this Friday by reminding people that they are available during their darkest hours.
Friday 21st December is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day - and the Longest Night - of the year.
To mark the date, several Samaritans branches across Ireland will hold candlelight vigils, candlelight walks and carol singing, with some having extra volunteers on hand to answer calls throughout the night. (see details below)
Cindy O’Shea, Samaritans Irish Regional Director, said: “We know as it’s the Friday before Christmas, many people will be out socialising after work or late-night shopping, but it would be great if people could try to join us for a short time. We want to make this a positive event and show that we can bring light to those who need it most. We want to highlight that whatever people are going through, we’re here to listen every day of the year, even on Christmas Day.”
Samaritans volunteers across Ireland are also giving the gift of listening this Christmas by ensuring its services remain open for those most in need throughout the festive period.
Almost 53,500 calls for help were answered by volunteers across Ireland last December, with 1,300 volunteers on duty throughout the month, including Christmas Day.
Ms O’Shea, who will be on duty over the Christmas period, said: “Christmas is a happy time for many, but for others it can be quite challenging. Bereavement, loneliness, relationship and family problems, depression, abuse, and drug and alcohol misuse can feature heavily throughout the festive break.
“Being at the end of the phone to support someone during their darkest hours, especially over Christmas, is an incredible feeling. It’s really important that people know someone is there for them if they are struggling through the day.
“If you’re feeling like it’s all too much, let someone know, don’t hide your feelings. Whether you’re on your own, or alone in a crowd, feeling lonely and isolated can be exacerbated at this time of year. You can always call Samaritans on freephone 116 123, text 087 260 9090, email [email protected] or visit your nearest branch.
“It’s really important we highlight that whatever people are going through, at whatever time of the day or night, we’re here to listen.”
This will be the 20th year Teresa Bell will volunteer for a Samaritans duty on Christmas Day.
The Athlone branch volunteer said whether someone is on their own, or surrounded by family, problems can crystallise over the festive period and trying to achieve the ‘perfect Christmas’ can bring extra pressure and strain.
She said: “There’s so much ‘happy clappy’ stuff for weeks in the run up to Christmas, especially on television, and it can be difficult when it’s not like that at home. People can be alone at Christmas, and sometimes that’s by choice, but for others they may be bereaved, separated or have fallen out with family and they find it difficult to get through the season. It’s very special to be there for someone on Christmas Day.”
Samaritans volunteer Mary Deery always volunteers at Christmas in the Derry branch – and this year will be no different.
She said: “Until you've sat in a Samaritans phone room and taken those calls over Christmas, you have no idea how tough it can be for a lot of people. Some people assume Samaritans are just about suicide prevention, but there's so much more to what we do, so many issues we deal with on a daily basis. Christmas feels like a condensed version of that, people’s problems seem to be turned up a notch at this time of year, it can be tough, but it also makes it extremely rewarding. For me, not to be answering the phones over Christmas just isn't Christmas at all. The best present we can give someone is our time to listen.”
Samaritans is asking all of us to give the gift of listening this Christmas, by encouraging friends and family going through a difficult time to open up and know that it’s OK to not be OK, even at Christmas.
To make it easier, the charity has produced a set of vouchers to download from the Samaritans website, offering time to listen as a present.
A pair of novelty socks won’t save a life but listening can make a huge difference.