Samaritans are reminding those in need this Christmas that their helpline will be open for them during their darkest hours if they are struggling to cope.
Volunteers across Ireland answered more than 40,000 calls for help during the month of December last Christmas, including almost 1,150 calls on Christmas Day.
Several branches around the country will also mark the Longest Night of the year this weekend with carol singing and candle light walks to show people they are there for them throughout their darkest hours - including on the Longest Night of the year.
In Dublin, volunteers will be on O’Connell Street to offer emotional support to people between 7pm and 9pm on Sunday, 22nd December. Elsewhere, volunteers in Cork, Galway, Drogheda, Arklow, Sligo, Newbridge, Kilkenny, Athlone, Waterford and Ennis plan to hold a series of events over the weekend.
Catherine Slater, lead volunteer with Samaritans of Limerick & Tipperary, will be among those on duty this Christmas Day.
“It can be incredibly rewarding to be there for someone on Christmas Day. The people who call us are often on their own and feel isolated and lonely, they may be in the middle of a family dispute, or simply feel overwhelmed by the day as it’s not always like how it’s depicted on television or in the movies. It’s a time of year that can be a pressure-point for many people,” she said.
“Other people often call us to say thank you for being there for them during the year.
“By marking the Longest Night this weekend, we are also saying to people that any time over the Christmas period can be a dark day for them and we’re here to share a bit of light for them.”
Teresa Bell, a volunteer in Athlone Samaritans and Deputy Regional Director for Samaritans in Ireland, has missed only one Christmas Day duty over the last 22 years.
“While it’s important that we are there every day for our callers, it’s very special and fulfilling to be on duty on Christmas Day,” said Teresa.
Christmas is not a cheerful and loving time for everyone, and we are there to try and help lighten that load when people are under pressure. I think the volunteers get as much from being there as the callers do.
Teresa Bell, Samaritans volunteer
As tinsel and fairy lights adorn the streets up and down the country, it can be easy to overlook how the festive season can be the hardest time of the year for some.
On Christmas Eve 2018, while most households prepared for Santa’s arrival, more than 140 dedicated Samaritans volunteers reported for duty at 13 Samaritans branches across the Republic of Ireland.
On Christmas Day, almost 150 Samaritans volunteers also headed to branches for a three-hour shift and responded to almost 1,150 calls for help from people feeling overwhelmed by the festivities.
Each volunteer answered an average of eight calls per Christmas shift, with callers sharing a wide range of personal challenges from mental and physical health struggles to family issues, relationship problems and isolation and loneliness. Dozens of text messages and emails were also answered.
Niall Mulligan, Executive Director for Samaritans Ireland, said it is important people seek help and support before they feel a problem or issue has escalated to the point it’s too late.
“We want to get the message out that anyone can contact us, anytime over Christmas, on freephone 116 123, text 087 260 9090, or email [email protected].”
Samaritans volunteers across Ireland and the UK answered 300,000 calls last December.