Philip Bray is encouraging people to join Samaritans’ strong volunteer team, at Barrington Street - Picture: Michael Cowhey
LOCAL mental health support and suicide prevention charity, Samaritans is looking to recruit more volunteers to operate out of its Barrington Street base as it seeks to expand its outreach programmes.
Founded in 1975, the Limerick-Tipperary branch currently has 150 active volunteers, who freely give their time to speak with people in distress.
As Samaritans is currently recruiting new members, the organisation is looking for eager, charitable locals to attend the city call centre, and to cover — in particular — the night shift.
But what exactly is a samaritan? Long-serving volunteer, Philip Bray said that it is somebody who “does good for somebody else without any praise or repayment of any kind, whatsoever. We don’t care what you have done.
“We are accepting, non-judgemental, and we give active listening to people, which helps everybody. We are confidential; we don’t talk about it and we don’t tell anybody about it. Whatever is said between us, stays between us. The extraordinary thing about it is that it actually works.
“And the more volunteers, the better, in every way. We have to cover holidays like everybody else. But it means that we can spread out the duties, and we only want people to cover one duty a week. We want to keep it like that.”
Before the new volunteer commences their duty, which is usually three hours per shift, they must go through six weeks of informative training.
“You don’t have to be a social worker, you don’t have to be a genius. All you have to do is listen to them. We don’t advise anybody, under any circumstances, whatsoever. We let them come to their own conclusions.
“In those six weeks of training, they learn about active listening. The training is for everybody and it actually works. I have seen this change people, and active listening, empathy and sympathy is a skill and knowledge that will help you for your entire life, and it will help other people, as well, which is just as important.
“Our training team will ensure that you will not be on a telephone talking to anybody in distress until you are ready and trained for it. Somebody will sit with them for the first couple of calls. They listen but don’t speak, and at the end of that call, they will have a chat,” the Samaritan explained.
According to Samaritans, one in every six people call in relation to suicide. The most prevalent issues are family and relationship breakdowns; isolation and loneliness; and anxiety and stress surrounding exams and financial strain.
Oftentimes, there can be silent callers, which Mr Bray said are “very important”.
“We get a number of calls like that. We wait and wait, and we assure them [the caller] that we are with them, not to rush, and to take their time. We encourage people in that way.”
Confidentiality is “the cornerstone” of the whole organisation, and when someone calls, they are sent to another branch around the country.
Sometimes, he said, callers will thank them for their help.
“Our natural modesty kicks in, and we say that it’s no problem, but, really, it is gratifying when somebody says ‘Thank you very much. You have helped me out. I feel a lot better now.’ And that’s great for us.”
As part of the volunteer recruitment drive, Samaritans has embarked on two new ventures; an outreach programme at Limerick Prison, and a peer outreach project at University of Limerick, which commences this semester.
In relation to the Prison Service programme, he said: “Management identify prisoners who would be suitable, and trusted by the other prisoners, for training. Then our team goes in and they train those prisoners, both male and female.
“Their duties are listeners. So, if a prisoner has a bad visit, or has a bad letter, or if they are upset about something, they can get access to this listener, 24 hours a day. They will open the cell door and the person will go in and listen to him.”
He said that the programme, which has been running for a number of months, has been “successful” so far.
One third of funds raised comes from church gate collections. There is an option for people to donate to the charity online.
For more information on getting involved with Samaritans, visit www.samaritans.ie.