With the issue of youth suicide very much in the public eye this week, the work of the Samaritans has never seemed more vital.
The tragic death of Co Tyrone teenager Ronan Hughes amid allegations of cyber bullying and the release of shocking figures on the number of children admitted to Craigavon Hospital due to suicidal thoughts or self-harm, is a stark reminder of the potentially life-saving role the service plays.
The Craigavon branch, based in Portadown, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. And one young man from the town is playing his part in providing a listening ear as one of its volunteers.
Jonathan (no surnames are used in the Samaritans) has been volunteering for a year now. The 20-year-old is in his final year of a psychology degree at Queen’s University Belfast and works a three-hour shift for the charity every week.
With a personal interest in mental health, his primary motivation in volunteering was to “make a difference to people’s lives”.
The people he speaks to, in complete confidence, contact the branch with a range of worries - from money and family problems to sexuality and thoughts of suicide.
He said, “Most people want someone to listen to them and that it what we do. We offer emotional support. We don’t disclose anything about our own lives, although that can be difficult if someone in your own family has experienced something similar. We tell the person, ‘It’s your call, it’s your life, it’s about you’.
“Our vision is that fewer people die by suicide. Some people who come on will talk about suicide very openly, and it’s something we have to talk through with them.”
Jonathan admits that some calls remain with him for quite a while afterwards. “There are times when I think about the person and how they are getting on,” he said.
Despite the sometimes emotional nature of the job, Jonathan “loves” it. And it’s not all serious either, with volunteers, ranging in age from 19 to 84, describing themselves as a “small family” and enjoying camaraderie and social occasions.
All volunteers receive full training and when they start ‘for real’ they are assigned a mentor who listen in to calls and gives constructive feedback.
Jonathan is both a mentor and a day leader - charged with monitoring how a particular day has gone.
Recent research shows that for almost everyone who contacts the Samaritans, it’s the human interaction that’s important. And almost three out of four people say they feel more understood and less alone or anxious after the call.