I always try to do one or two extra shifts at this time of year. It’s Christmas and people need us more.
I have done the morning shift on Christmas Day, at other times the 11pm to 3am shift. Samaritans is the only place that is open – when you can’t get anyone else – your GP, your social worker, your care worker – you can get a Samaritan on Christmas morning.
It’s really important to be there – there is an extra sadness about people who call Samaritans at Christmas, and they are often the people who are probably feeling excluded anyway.
I think that we have a responsibility to make sure that calls get through on Christmas Day, and that there are enough of us to deal with them, just because no-one else is around.
One thing that comes across at Christmas from callers is, the happier the rest of the world is, the more rubbish you can feel.
If you are lonely at this time of year, it seems as if everyone else is in groups, having a great time. Television is full of celebrations and people getting together, which emphasises the isolation people feel further.
If you feel you are not quite cut out for society, if you have an existing mental health problem or find it hard to fit in, this is a difficult period. Christmas is also all about families getting together – if you don’t have contact with your family, or you don’t have any friends, you can feel more left out in the face of that.
Christmas is all about togetherness, not being on your own. It is a hard time of year if you have lost someone, for example. We get a lot of people getting in touch who have lost a partner, a spouse, a child, and their grief is compounded by the festive season.
It’s not being together that is brought home at this time of year, and many who contact Samaritans will be expressing their feelings about ’another year has gone by and what have I done with it?
Volunteering for Samaritans has made me appreciate even more that I have been lucky and successful and happy in my life – although I have also had my share of loss. Every time you do a Samaritans shift you think, on another occasion that could be me.
I would 100% call Samaritans myself if I started to feel I was struggling. I do not feel different from the callers, we are all the same, really.
Being a Samaritans volunteer makes you see just how valuable the service is, how much we need people to listen to us, and support us. It brings home to you your own fragility.
It also stops you being complacent. I have ended up myself with nowhere to go on Christmas morning, I have three grown up children who were with their partners, my husband was going to see his 97-year-old mother, I did my Christmas morning shift because it was the best use of my time, in a really good way I was not needed by my family and that worked really well.
You can be a friend on the phone for an hour to someone who has no-one to speak to at all, or you can spend time with people who do not speak to their children, or are estranged from their family and friends. Not everyone who phones is suicidal at that moment, it is more that loneliness is huge at Christmas.
People who phone can speak to someone who isn’t going to judge them, Samaritans volunteers can be that neutral person, your own relatives will be much more emotional about the things that you tell them.
Because I am semi-retired I can be flexible, and I wait and see where there are gaps in the Christmas rota so that I can help to fill them. People who work full time find it harder are under more time pressure, so I feel that this is something I can do.
It’s really important that we don’t have any unfilled shifts – I don’t like to think of people not being able to get through.
· Samaritans has more than 20,000 volunteers in 201 branches in the UK and Ireland. You can call Samaritans, any time, free from any phone, on 116 123, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to www.samaritans.org to find out where your nearest branch is if you would like to speak to one of our volunteers face to face.
· Samaritans is always looking for volunteers, to find out more, go to: https://www.samaritans.org/volunteer-us
· It is the public’s kind donations which keep Samaritans service going. To donate please go to: https://www.samaritans.org/support-us/donate-online