Most of us know that the Samaritans’ mission is for fewer people to die by suicide. It’s a message that has been successfully conveyed since they were set up more than 60 years ago.
More than 5.3 million calls were made to the Samaritans across the UK in 2014 and they also signs on bridges, railways and other areas of concern throughout the UK, bearing their freecall number.
Now, NHS Western Isles is joining up with the charity’s Western Isles branch to raise awareness of the importance of emotional wellbeing and to point out that the Samaritans can also help someone well before they get to crisis point.
The skilled listeners at the Samaritans can help people develop the resilience to deal with life’s challenges.
As Marion France, outgoing chair of the Western Isles branch said: “There is nothing we haven’t heard. I see a lot of people in the islands suffering with mental health problems.
“And when the elderly come out of hospital, they can be very lonely. We want to help people get through a difficult time – whatever is causing it.”
The Samaritans is the only voluntary service of its kind in the country that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
There is now a freephone number – 116 123 – which does not show up on phone bills and all calls are completely confidential.
You can also get in touch by email via the address firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website, www.samaritans.org
The Western Isles branch has 19 trained listeners and supporters, and a further six are about to begin training.
There is no direct island phone number. All calls are made to the freephone number and picked up in turn from the central system by volunteers all over the country, so the chances of a caller from the Western Isles getting through to a volunteer from the Western Isles are slim.
This is also due to the fact that our local volunteers only man the phones at weekends.
It is also possible to walk into the Samaritans branch in Stornoway on 87 Cromwell Street, and chat with a volunteer face to face.
This drop-in service is available on Fridays from 11am to 2pm but it is not particularly well used as yet.
Marion acknowledged there is “a lot of wariness” about privacy, due to living in a small community.
But she stressed that all Samaritans treat conversations with “absolute confidentiality” in all circumstances.
“I want people to talk more,” she said. “Just speak to someone. The Samaritans is a great organisation and their help is there for you. Don’t bottle it up.”
James Jopling, Executive Director of Samaritans in Scotland, said: “Life’s pressures can build, without you even realising.
“It’s all too easy to turn away, ignore how you’re feeling, and put on a brave face. But you don’t have to do that with Samaritans. Our branches are staffed entirely by volunteers, including the Stornoway branch.
“They make time for you and really listen to you, because simply being listened to can help you put into words what’s really going on in your life and help you find a way through.”
Marion, who handed over the reins to Angus Macleod on Monday, May 16, said: “It’s been a huge honour and a privilege to be chair of Samaritans Western Isles for three years. Looking back, we’ve achieved a lot in the last three years with our wee branch. The volunteers we have are amazing – they give it their all – and we couldn’t do it without them.”
Angus said: “It’s my second time around, so I think I know what to expect. I’m looking forward to the challenge and I’m ready to take it on again.”
Pictured are Marion France and Angus Macleod outside the Western Isles branch of the Samaritans on Cromwell Street, Stornoway.