Last Christmas the Samaritans answered more than 300,000 calls for help.
And an army of more than 3,000 volunteers reported for duty on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at Samaritans’ branches across the UK and Republic of Ireland.
This Yuletide will be no different as volunteers of all ages and experiences are getting ready to forego their own festivities in order to be there for someone in need.
The charity has just launched its Christmas fundraising appeal to help support its work 365 days of the year. The ‘Be part of the story’ campaign focuses on those it has helped and on its volunteers.
One of the faces of the poster campaign is Sophie, 26, from Sussex, who tells how Samaritans helped “give me my life back”.
Sophie, from Littlehampton, went through a marital breakup in the months leading up to Christmas last year and also struggled with severe depression.
She said: “Last year was a real struggle for me with my mental health, which led to the cracks in my marriage, usually I’m like a big kid at Christmas, but I couldn’t think of anything worse than playing the fake ‘happy’ charade.
“It made me feel even more depressed when all my family and friends were excited in the run up to the big day. The pressure of enjoying yourself and everything being perfect can make mental health issues a thousand times worse as you’re supposed to be bubbly and joyful. I didn’t want to ruin it for anyone else.
“The only people I could show my true feelings to, even the deep dark ones, was Samaritans. It was a relief to speak to someone that wasn’t expecting you to be jolly.
“Samaritans’ help gave me my life back and I will be forever thankful for that.”
The other face of the poster campaign is veteran ‘listener’ Bob Howe. The 64-year-old, has volunteered for Samaritans for 18 years and regularly works the Christmas Day and Boxing Day shifts at his branch in Leeds.
He said: “The perception is that Christmas should be jolly, a time when people are together as a family unit. But we know that, in reality, there are many people who are alone… or who want to be alone because they’re having a hard time. So Christmas is just another day – or it’s actually worse than normal because of the expectations of others.
“We know that no one else is open at Christmas. We’re the only people who are there when someone feels low at 4pm on Christmas Day. People’s normal support systems – counsellors, key workers, GPs – are closed. I always remember that, after my two hours on shift, I can go home to my family. Some people can’t.”
Bob says there a range of factors which can combine to make people feel far from festive at Christmas. He added: “All the normal issues are still there, they don’t go away because it is Christmas. You can often list them: finance, family relationships, employment, the credit card bill coming next month, but often these things tie together.”
Bob has worked every Christmas bar two during his long time with Samaritans. He used to volunteer at two other charities but concentrated on Samaritans because he feels it gives him a direct contact to the people who are reaching out for help.
He added: “To say we enjoy doing it is a strange thing to say. Initially we struggle with a bit of guilt over that. We don’t do it to enjoy it. But it still astounds me at the end of practically every contact we have, no matter how distressed, despairing or fed up that person might be, they have the presence of mind to say something along of the lines of, ‘I don’t know what I would have done without you’. It’s very humbling. But you can’t get away from the fact that you have been there for someone. It makes you want to do a bit more because you feel I am not doing it for myself, I am doing it for these people.”
While Bob is a gearing up for another Christmas shift, volunteer Sue Peart is getting ready for her first. Journalist Sue, 60, got involved with Samaritans after the death of her mum, Hylda, and after leaving her job as a successful national newspaper magazine editor.
Sue said: “I was struggling with the fact my career had come to an end and then I faced the grief of losing my mum. It set the seal on a terrible year- I call it my ‘year of the pancake’ - the year when everything ‘flipped’.
“I won’t forget how comforting it was to have Samaritans’ number by my bedside, just in case I needed to call in the middle of the night. I could never have predicted that I would become a volunteer for Samaritans. Having been through difficult times myself, I realised how important it was to be there for someone in need.
“It’s a time of year that can be a pressure-point for people, particularly if you’re going to be spending Christmas on your own, all the emphasis on happy families can make you feel even more alone. Personally, I know this Christmas will be tough for me as it will be one year since I lost my mum.
“With suicide rates on the rise, Samaritans has never been more of a lifeline. It would be a tragedy if Samaritans wasn’t able to be there for those in distress. Making a donation will ensure we’re there for everyone who needs help. It’s a 24/7 service, and your gift will help pay for that and the training for volunteers like me.”
You can donate via: www.samaritans.org/christmas.