As a Samaritans listening volunteer, I'm lucky – Mental Health At Work
12/05/2020

As a Samaritans listening volunteer, I’m lucky

Anne

Listening volunteer at Samaritans Folkestone

As part of the Our Frontline campaign to support the mental health of all those out working to protect us during the coronavirus crisis, we’ll be regularly sharing stories, tips and other thoughts about what life is like for them at the moment, in their own words.


A woman standing in front of a building with a Samaritans poster in the window

I’m a Samaritan. Not necessarily a ‘good’ one in the biblical sense. I get tired, grumpy – make mistakes, have regrets. But, I do know that I’m lucky.

It’s that luck that, at eleven pm, persuades me to drive along windy country roads, scrub down my listening booth for ten minutes and ensure I keep at least a two-metre distance from my colleague also on the rota for our four-hour night shift. Those of us that can still come in are doing longer shifts now to reduce the number of people out and about, and lessen the contact between volunteers. We’ve even shut the kitchen to limit the number of hard surfaces we’re in contact with; so, no biscuits or cups of tea to tempt me.

I log in and the phone rings immediately. “Samaritans, can I help you?”

COVID-19 has added a dangerous layer of stress and anxiety to so many lives already teetering

I never know who’ll be on the other end of that phone – each contact is completely anonymous and confidential – or how much gut-wrenching courage it has taken to lift the receiver and talk to a stranger about things that are so supremely personal. I never know how close they’ll be to the brink. I do know that Covid19 has added a dangerous layer of stress and anxiety to so many lives already teetering.

I talk to folk just like me who are facing different circumstances: single mums, prisoners, policemen, people suffering a break-up, students, the recently bereaved, the self-harming and the nearly homeless – and that’s just one shift.

A woman sits at a desk talking on the telephone, with a Samaritans poster behind her

We’re getting more emails than usual – perhaps that’s because people can’t find private spaces to ring? The written stories are no less tragic; tablets aren’t working, parents aren’t listening, money is running out, it’s all much too much to bear.

I can’t offer solutions. What I can do is listen. When someone does me the honour of pouring out their life story or explains how desperate they are feeling, I’m so glad I’ve come in. I can, despite the gloom and fear, hold out a hand and say I care – I really do.

I hope my being there, quietly in the darkness, makes enough of a difference for someone

The heart-breaking nature of this work is that I have no way of knowing what happens to each person once the phone goes down. I hope my being there, quietly in the darkness, makes enough of a difference for someone.

I pack up and disinfect my station ready for the next volunteer, massively thankful that my luck is still holding.


Read more stories from workers on the frontline during the pandemic.