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Opinion Samaritans volunteers are a community of ordinary people who care deeply about others

A Samaritans volunteer details the daily dedication needed for such an important role.

Dublin Samaritans, Ireland’s first helpline, marks its 50th anniversary this week. Volunteers from all walks of life are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to be with people who have feelings of despair, distress, loneliness or suicide.

Samaritans in Ireland receives a call every minute of every day. Samaritans can be contacted on a free-to-call number (116 123), by email ( or by dropping into a branch to meet a volunteer face-to-face.

Here, a member of the Dublin branch talks about her experience of volunteering:

I WAS STALLED at traffic lights on my journey home while my children slept in the back of the car. We were on our way back having just spent a perfect Christmas Day with family and loved ones when I heard an ad on the radio for Samaritans.

In the darkness of that night, a voice on the air reminded listeners that Samaritans were always available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to those who were feeling suicidal or depressed, to listen confidentially without judgement and to provide emotional support no matter how the person was feeling at that time.

At the traffic lights in those few minutes, I thought about what life could be like for people who were struggling without loving people around them or who couldn’t talk about how they felt if they wanted to die.

People who, for whatever reason, couldn’t actually talk to their loved ones. It was a defining moment in my life. I kept repeating the telephone number from the ad in my head so that I wouldn’t forget it as I drove home, and parking about 20 minutes later I called Samaritans and asked if I could become a volunteer. That was 23 years ago.

A good listener

Being a listener on the phone line and in face-to-face meetings with people who reach out to Samaritans has not fundamentally altered over my 23 years as a volunteer.

Universal feelings of loss, bereavement, depression, disconnection and loneliness never change, and some people struggle and need to be heard in order to survive. We accept every caller unconditionally and provide a safe and confidential space to talk and to explore feelings and emotions.

shutterstock_627623021 Shutterstock / Antonio Guillem Shutterstock / Antonio Guillem / Antonio Guillem

We are not completely passive in our listening though, but gently encourage people to be open to how they really feel and to explore what options that they may have in relation to their life or the situation they find themselves in.

We don’t give advice and never tell people what to do. How can we? We don’t walk in their shoes, so we cannot ever really know what it feels like to be that person or how to cope with their particular situation, but we can empathise and be close and present in those private shared quiet conversations.

We explore the darkness of despair and of suicidal feelings, and what death means to our callers, and we open up conversations that can be so overwhelming and difficult that they cannot have them with their closest loved ones, family or friends.

The training that I and every new volunteer receives focuses on the quality of being really present for the duration of every conversation with our callers. Treating every person who contacts Samaritans with dignity and respect for how they are feeling the moment they pick up the phone and call us, or knock on our doors in our centres throughout the country, lies at the heart of what we do.

Proud to be a volunteer

Being a volunteer takes only a few hours a week, but maintaining a 24-hour rota – including late nights, early mornings and overnight shifts – takes commitment from a lot of people who believe that Samaritans are providing a service like no other. Every volunteer makes their own personal sacrifice and commitment to being there for our callers. 

shutterstock_1155421492 Shutterstock / Casimiro PT Shutterstock / Casimiro PT / Casimiro PT

Samaritans volunteers are a community of ordinary people who care deeply about others, who are trained to listen carefully, and who have empathy and kindness at their core. We are made up of young and old. Some volunteers are third-level students, others are well into retirement. There is great camaraderie within the walls and deep and abiding friendships (and marriages) have been struck up. Some of my closest friends are Samaritans volunteers.

Over the years since I started volunteering our world around us has gotten busier and busier, and people appear to have less time to connect and chat, leaving others feeling abandoned and lost.

A matter of trust

Samaritans are always there 24 hours a day at the end of the phone line and our callers know this and trust us with their deepest thoughts and feelings.

Listening to people who reach out to us to share the most intimate aspects of their lives – be it a marriage break up or issues about their sexual orientation – or who simply need to hear a human voice because they live in isolation, has taught me the value of human contact and being actively present in the shared moments with callers.

In an ever-changing and fast-moving world, Samaritans volunteers are always available to listen, to allow people to talk and to cry, to discuss what is troubling them and to explore what it feels like when death seems to be the only option.

I am supported and surrounded all the time by the other volunteers in Samaritans and I feel privileged to belong to a community that is held in such faith and trust by the people who continue to make contact with us every minute of every day.

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