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Dublin: 10 °C Monday 20 October, 2014

Column: I volunteer with Samaritans every Christmas. Here’s why…

Sometimes people call Samaritans at Christmas who might never normally do so. It could be the first Christmas they are bereaved, the could feel isolated, or they could have major money worries. We’re there to listen.

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I BEGAN VOLUNTEERING as a way of giving something back. I feel that I have been very lucky in life and Samaritans was an organisation that had always been on my radar.

I began volunteering with the Dublin branch in 1995. I really liked the fact that you didn’t t tell people what to do and that you are providing a listening ear. It’s a very simple act but it is one that brings our callers enormous benefit. We provide them with the space they need to talk and express their feelings. Sometimes they’ll thank me for advice even though I haven’t given them any. It will be the caller himself or herself who has been able to figure out their next steps after speaking to someone who has heard them without jumping in with judgement and advice.

Callers will sometimes ask me if what they tell me is confidential as they may not have been able to speak to anyone else about what they are feeling. I always let them know that what they say stays confidential within Samaritans.

A Christmas Day shift can be busy. I have done four Christmases now. But being in the branch itself over Christmas can be very emotional both for us as volunteers and for our callers. On the day itself there is a lovely atmosphere in the branch. There are always lots of sweets and cards from other Samaritans as well as from our callers. There is a real feeling of camaraderie between the volunteers. While I’m not sure my wife is always pleased with me doing a duty on Christmas night, I don’t feel too guilty leaving her as she gets to have the TV to herself for a while after the madness of Christmas Day lunch.

It can be too much to cope with at Christmastime

Christmas can be a very poignant time for our callers. The ordinary sadness that they deal with throughout the year can become too much for them to cope with on their own over the Christmas and New Year period. Many of those calling will be feeling lonely, for some it brings back memories of the past when they had their friends and family around them. For others it is the stress of dealing with family.

Sometimes someone might call at Christmas who might never normally call Samaritans. It could be the first Christmas they are bereaved, they’ve lost their partner, suddenly things are very different on Christmas Day. Or people could have major money worries that are magnified at this time. In recent years, we have noticed a certain rise in the number of people mentioning financial problems to us but often this is just another issue that exacerbates their sadness and despair.

We’re there to listen

Another factor at play during the Christmas period is that the other services that people normally rely on for the rest of the year are closed. So, day centres wouldn’t be open on Christmas Day, the library won’t be open, callers won’t be able to phone social services.

A really common phrase I hear is ‘they’ve got their own lives to lead’. People don’t want to tell family or friends that they are feeling down at Christmas. They don’t want to be a burden or upset anyone.
The Dublin branch at 112 Marlborough Street (just across from the Abbey Theatre) will be open as usual for people to call in on Christmas Day from 10am to 10pm. People can ring on the doorbell and as long as we’re not all on the phones, we will welcome them in for a face-to-face call. They can also text and email us as usual over the entire Christmas period.

This Christmas, I wish that everyone knew about Samaritans, and that we are there for them.

Mark is a volunteer with the Dublin branch of Samaritans since 1995. He is from Dublin and married with two children. Now retired, he has volunteered for the last four years on Christmas Day.

Samaritans Ireland is the longest-serving organisation in the area of emotional support and suicide prevention with 2,000 people volunteering around the country. If you feel like you need to talk to someone, you can contact them on 1850 60 90 90 or email jo@samaritans.org.

Column: For many this Christmas, loneliness will turn the minutes into hours

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