The art of listening – My experience as a Samaritan

Carmen BryceBlog posts

Have you ever been struggling in the middle of the night, unable to seek any help because those you feel closest to are asleep or you feel uncomfortable sharing your personal problems or issues with them? You feel as if you’ve nowhere to turn, nobody to listen or attempt to understand what you’re going through. Then you remember the Samaritans, you pick up the phone to dial the number and within seconds there is someone on the other end of the line who wants to help.

“In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans answers over 5 million calls for help every year. That is one call every six seconds.” – Samaritans Ireland Impact Report 2014-2015

I have always wondered about an individual’s capability to help those within the community, it seemed like an impossible task for one person to make a difference or to even feel like they have made a difference. Whenever I saw someone struggling, I felt I had the innate capacity to help even though I had no clue how to or even if I could. I just knew I wanted to, at the very least, try to help. This led me to research my options and of the significant number of charities out there, I chose the Samaritans.

I wanted to help make an impact in my community locally and nationwide. I was so interested by the ideologies of the Samaritans, the battle of stigma between mental health issues and our society is well documented and I wanted to be a forerunner of the experience. I wanted to help and I found the perfect outlet to allow me to. It was time to start making a difference.

My experience with the Samaritans began almost two years ago. After the initial steps of applying for the volunteering position, completing numerous interviews, 10 weeks of intensive yet extremely valuable training and a few weeks of observing with my mentor, I was ready to take my first call.

This was an extremely worrying situation for me – and for every new volunteer I believe – as you are compelled with an overwhelming sense of benevolence yet also despair at the idea of letting down the person at the other end of the phone. It was a heavy weight to bear as I truly believed that if I slipped up and said the wrong thing, then the consequences could be fatal.

Even with all of the training, my subconscious was telling me I would not be able to handle a call from someone with suicidal tendencies or a history of self-harming – but I was. I soon came to realise that although some people are looking for Samaritans to provide them with answers (which they cannot), that the vast majority of people are searching for someone to listen to them.

The art of listening is one that is very much under-appreciated – to find someone who actively listens to your story or how you are feeling,  can result in an extremely soothing feeling. Emotional support is what the Samaritans specialise in and no matter what you want to say to them, they will listen, they will not judge, they will keep it confidential and they will help you explore your options.

Personally, one of the most invaluable traits I discovered about the Samaritans was the commitment to being non judgemental. Every single caller, text message, face to face or email is met with this policy and it provides a plethora of comfort for the people who rely on the service.

I found that removing judgement, gives every person an equal chance to express themselves and removes the discrimination that is rampant in society due to judgement, regardless of your background, ethnicity, personal beliefs or religion, social or economic standing. If you need us, we are there for you.

Now with almost two years of Samaritans volunteering under my belt (which is quite little in comparison to the incredibly altruistic people within the organisation who could have spent at least 30 years happily giving up their time each week), there is always that small sense of doubt or worry whenever you are in that booth and hear that phone ring – maybe this will be the call where I can not provide some form of relief – yet is is usually quickly quenched by the appetite to help and the automatic response of “Samaritans, can I help you?”.

Although there are days where the toll of providing such emotional support may leave you feeling quite drained and even apathetic, the sentiment of making a connection or providing at least one person with a sense of ease knowing that somebody is there for them, completely re-evaluates your mindset and your personal conscious.   

Transferring these skills that I have learned to another charitable organisation such as MyMind would be easier than previously thought. Understanding how to communicate with people with mental health difficulties is a very delicate task yet with much practice it becomes second nature. Since working at MyMind I have found that the values of both organisations are completely interchangeable, it’s just the method of delivery that differs.

There is such a high demand for the Samaritans that it has now also spread across to Scotland with 19 branches and Wales with nine branches. The Samaritans have phone, email and text message to communicate with those who may find it difficult to verbally express what they want to say, as many people may have never told anyone about this issue or problem before in their life. MyMind have also been able expand their organisation proceeding with two centres in Dublin, one in Cork and one in Limerick.

The email and SMS provides an additional feature that is more anonymous and comforting to some. If you would prefer to stop into a local branch of the Samaritans, there are now 20 branches across Ireland with 2,400 volunteers,with most branches being available 365 days a year.

MyMind’s aim is to help make mental health care accessible for every individual. This is completely inspiring and just as the same with Samaritans, it has hard not feel extremely proud whilst working for these organisations.

Although both charities provide an exceptional service, there is a need for both, to contribute a vast range of services to the community.

If you need someone to be there for you in the middle of the night, Samaritans have a 24 hour helpline, if you are looking for a form of talk therapy to help with some issues or even a multilingual organisation then MyMind will be there for you.

Call freephone 116 123 to talk to the Samaritans today, or email Jo@samaritans.org if you prefer.

Call MyMind at 076 680 1060 to get an appointment within just a few days, or email hq@mymind.org

It cannot be stressed enough how important your call, text or email is to us. 

By Eamon Aswad