Volunteers at the Samaritans are taking over 3,000 calls a month from distressed people between their two centres at Galway and Castlebar.
Catherine Emerson, director of the Samaritans in Galway, said they hope to be able to increase the number of volunteers who work out of the two sites in 2024, with the Mayo service opened in September by the Galway office.
Nationally the Samaritans took nearly half a million calls in 2022 – sadly the two local call centres cannot operate round the clock due to the lack of staff, but it will be an aim of the organisation to change that following a recruitment drive next year.
“The things that people talk to us don’t really change – loneliness and isolation, poor mental and/or physical health, financial worries, difficulties with relationships, with family and friends are still the main reasons that people ring Samaritans,” she muses.
“Around a fifth of the people we talk to are experiencing suicidal thoughts – including people who have made plans to end their lives – but 80% of the people we speak to aren’t currently suicidal, but they are struggling with the demands of life.
“The Samaritans give people the space to talk about these demands, and to work out their own ways of coping with them.”
The service is not a counselling service but rather a listening ear at a time people are really struggling, she stresses.
“We don’t tell people what to do because the people who call us are the experts on their own lives and what will work best for them. However, we know that just by listening to people, we can help them improve their situation.
“Particularly around Christmas people call us to tell us how much we’ve helped them in the past and it’s a real privilege to be there at this time.”
While Galway or Mayo are not open round-the-clock other branches across the country ensuring that lines stay open 24 hours so that people can contact us whenever they need us.
“We know that if we had more volunteers, we could reach more people when they really need us. But this service is available at all times.”
There are 26 conferences in the Society of St Vincent De Paul operating across the city, Moycullen, Claregalway and into Connemara with around 200 volunteers giving their time for others.
And the charity has never been busier.
Using donations from the public, they have in the region of €400,000 to spend on energy vouchers, help pay rent, food vouchers and other vital costs that will cause undue hardship on a household.
Seamus McManus, SVP Galway Area President, said if somebody calls looking for assistance, two volunteers will aim to call out to the house for an informal assessment.
“We try to meet face to face, because dealing with a person over the phone is completely different to sitting in front of them, seeing their personal circumstances, getting a feel of the environment in the house.
“Some people – the stress they’re under is incredible. They feel they have nowhere to turn. They could have a child with Autism, they might be dealing with some illness, they might be trying to pay back debts. They find it hard to sleep, they worry about getting enough money for food, rent, energy, clothes, they hit a blockage.
“We are there, by and large we’d say our job is to get people out of a hole, usually short term, five to six weeks. It can be longer. But whether a person has a job, is a student that doesn’t have family support, or they don’t have a job, newly arrived in the country or a person struggling with their mental health – we are here to support even all over Christmas.”
Despite the back-to-school grants that are available, many families are struggling to meet the costs of education, particularly for students in Transition Years which have additional significant fees for trips and events.
“We are really keen to do what we can if possible, to keep children in education because that is about long-term self-sufficiency and finding a way out of poverty. We had one particular mother who had to leave the job when school finished to pick up her child and she used to bring the child to her work to sit for hours while she finished.
“We were able to help her with afterschool costs. Early intervention is a big help, you get an awful lot more for an early lot less if you can help at the early stages.
With junior cycle books set to be funded by the Government next year, senior cycle books will still be a major worry for struggling families, something which the SVP can help offset.
The charity helps funds after-schools run by other agencies and community groups if it can keep parents working.
Fundraising has been stable in the last two years despite all the inflationary costs on households and businesses.
“It’s amazing how even people you wouldn’t expect, businesses under pressure, still manage to give out of societal conscience.”
The SVP shops are currently thriving selling second clothes and household items, with all funds going to help those in need of “a hand up, not a handout”.
The Samaritans free telephone service is available by phoning 116 123 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Ring the SVP on 091-563 233.
Pictured: Helping hand…Seamus McManus, SVP Galway Area President.
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