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Isolation and loneliness among key concerns raised by callers to Samaritans last year

Samaritans Ireland’s 2020 report is launching today ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

ISOLATION AND LONELINESS were some of the most frequent issues raised by people who contacted Samaritans last year.

An “increasing number” of callers say the long-term impacts of isolation have made them feel less able to cope as the pandemic continues, while calls about mental health struggles were the most common concern during the nine months of Covid-19 restrictions.

Samaritans, which provides support to people in emotional distress or at risk of suicide, answered a call for help every 56 seconds on average last year.

Its 2020 Impact Report is launching today ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day on Friday.

Samaritans Ireland took nearly 540,000 phone calls in 2020 – 418,135 in the Republic of Ireland and 121,444 in Northern Ireland.

Additionally, it handled almost 24,000 emails – 11,433 in the Republic and 12,420 in the North. 

In 2019, it received a total of 583,000 calls and 19,900 emails.

The primary concerns raised in 2020 were mental health or illness, isolation and loneliness, family, relationship problems and Covid-19.

Executive Director for Samaritans Ireland Niall Mulligan said that Covid-19 has “undoubtedly been the most serious challenge Samaritans has faced in our 60 years in Ireland, but we know we are needed now more than ever”.

Mulligan said it was a difficult year for both callers and for the organisation’s volunteers.

2,300 volunteers responded to the half a million calls in Ireland, equating to 100,000 hours of listening between March 2020 and March 2021.

However, around 40% of volunteers stepped back from their roles during the height of the pandemic because of health issues or vulnerability to the virus that either they or a household member experienced.

One-quarter of volunteers are still yet to return in 2021.

“While loneliness and isolation remained among the top reasons why people called, we also supported those with a mental health crisis, with family or relationship issues, job or financial insecurity, bereavement and anxiety over the coronavirus pandemic,” Mulligan said.

The report outlines that “many people had suffered job losses leading to uncertainty for the future” and “many who called us had never used our service before”.

“Unfortunately, we had to immediately suspend face-to-face support in branches and our outreach work in communities, schools, prisons and at festivals, but we hope, in time, we can reach out and support those people in person again.”

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In prisons, there was a 400% increase in calls to the Samaritans helpline from inmates, rising from around 3,000 in 2019 to over 12,000 in 2020.

Those calls often related to increased stress levels, concern for family, isolation, and worries about Covid-19.

Samaritans is currently piloting a new online chat service in Ballymena, Bangor and Belfast.

“Volunteers involved report that online chat is demanding and rewarding in equal measures and it’s becoming apparent that the anonymity it offers callers seems to encourage more open exploration of difficult feelings including thoughts of suicide and self-harm,” the report said.

“Although still early days, the service is reaching many people in need of support who say they would not contact Samaritans by other means.”

If you need to talk, contact:

  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • National Suicide Helpline 1800 247 247 – (suicide prevention, self-harm, bereavement)
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

About the author:

Lauren Boland

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