The shame and judgement behind calling the Samaritans is a direct reflection of the appalling stigma that still surround mental health today. If talking to someone is encouraged, why is talking to the Samaritans any different? It’s unfortunate that people still feel they aren’t worthy of using this service or that their problem isn’t big enough. Anyone who works in the Samaritans will tell you that if it’s a big deal to you, it’s a big deal to them. The Samaritans are known for their calming presence and true ability to listen and help those who don’t feel they can continue any longer, but they are much more than a suicide hotline.
The Samaritans helped approximately 1.2 million people throughout 2020; providing a confidential listening and advice service, helping others to explore their options and signpost to other services if needed. Their ethos is that everyone is worthy of support for anything that is affecting them. The service is free, it won’t appear on any phone bill and is completely anonymous. The calls cannot be traced and it’s individual choice how much identifying information is shared. As a mental health nurse, the people I work with are usually unsure about the amount of information they share. Thankfully, this initial discomfort often dissipates as we bust some of the myths around how mental health services work. Usually this is a discussion around hospital treatment being a last resort, the other options that are available and an understanding of our confidentiality agreement. When people are struggling with their mental health, the additional anxiety of “what if” can be extremely distressing and the anonymity when calling the Samaritans can be the vital comfort needed in that very moment.
There is no doubt that the Samaritans are helpful, but I completely understand when people tell me calling is easier said than done. When I was at university there was a period of time whereby I struggled deeply with my mental health and the thought crossed my mind, “I wonder if the Samaritans could help me?”. It was months until I built up the courage to pick up the phone, and weeks after that I managed to speak rather than pressing red as soon as a wonderful volunteer asked how they could help. We think about it, we prepare for it (which for me and my anxiety-ridden brain also included trawling through the internet to read other people’s experiences talking to the Samaritans) and finally, we do it. For many, this initial interaction is more than just a phone call- it’s an acceptance that we need help.
When you call the Samaritans you can share as little or as much as you like. They may ask you questions to understand your story but they will never pressure you into sharing details you don’t want to. I can’t say it enough- you can call for anything that’s bothering you. Loneliness, grief, anxiety, low mood, body image, eating struggles, hearing voices, relationship breakdowns, nightmares, sleep difficulties; if it’s affecting the way you feel, they can support you. Sometimes they ask a little about your history and support you’re currently receiving elsewhere (if any) and explore ways to help with your situation. They don’t tell you what to do but they can help you to make a plan collaboratively if needed. Even if you don’t want advice and you just want to be heard, they’re available to be a virtual shoulder to cry on or a pair of ears that aren’t emotionally invested in what’s going on for you. There is no limit on the amount of times you can call and no timescale on support offered- although many volunteers have had 10 minute calls to 2 hour calls, the average time spent supporting one person is usually around 45 minutes. During this time, you are in full control. You can end the call at any time.
You can call the Samaritans on 116 123. The Samaritans also have an email service at firstname.lastname@example.org (although understandably, this isn’t encouraged if you need urgent support) and a pilot scheme for an online chat service.
Speaking to the Samaritans is often assumed to be ‘extreme’. It is subtly suggested in our communities that the line should only be used for people who are severely depressed and suicidal, which we know is not the case. I’d encourage everyone to keep the Samaritans number to hand. It’s good to know you have access to a number that will always have someone pick up the phone.
To read more about The Samaritans, visit their website here.