For most of us there are 168 hours in a week but for Samaritans there are 1,069 hours each week. That is the average listening time each week provided by the 1,300 volunteers who give of their time to continue the life supporting services of Samaritans in Ireland.
Samaritans began operating in Ireland in 1970, from a single room with a handful of volunteers. Since then it has expanded to 12 branches throughout the country and provides 24 hour listening services to those who are in need of comfort and support as they struggle to deal with the challenges and difficulties that life presents.
Too often, the work of Samaritans, and the volunteers who run the telephone lines, goes unacknowledged, yet they continue to provide a valuable support without seeking the limelight or attention.
Today, launching this Impact Report is an opportunity to recognise and thank the 1,300 volunteers and everyone involved in the Samaritans for the service they provide.
The Impact Report for the twelve months from November 2010 to October 2011 presents an opportunity to highlight the achievements of the organisation.
In the last year Samaritans Ireland provided more than 55,600 listening hours, recoding 265,445 dialogue contacts – telephone calls lasting more than 10 seconds – supporting people who may have been in distress, suffering from anxiety, or experiencing suicidal thoughts.
As well as those extraordinary headline figures what is even more pertinent are the year on year comparatives. While there was a two per cent increase in the listening hours provided, there the number of calls received increased by 9 per cent. Some of this increase may be due to improved awareness, a greater willingness to talk about emotional and mental health; inevitably some of the increase is due to pressures which are being exacerbated by financial stress.
Over the last ten years suicide rates have generally decreased, a trend replicated across most of Europe. However, with the onset of the financial crises that trend has changed, we have begun to see an increase in the number of suicides. Across Europe that trend is most pronounced in Greece and here in Ireland. It is reported that between 2007 and 2009 we saw a 13 per cent increase in suicide rates.
The financial pressures are having a negative impact on emotional and mental health. Depression and relationship difficulties are intensified by financial problems. As individuals come under greater stress the role and value of organisations like Samaritans increases.
Recently the Government has announced an increased funding package for mental health. It is providing €35 million to further advance the implementation of ‘A Vision for Change’. Recognising the prevalence of suicide, the Government has identified suicide prevention as a priority area in its mental health policy. The measures on suicide prevention will include roll-out of the Suicide Crisis Assessment Nurse (SCAN) initiative, improved response to deliberate self-harm and training for GPs. Part of the €35m will be used to increase the availability of psychological and counselling services in Primary Care.
I am confident that these initiatives will assist in developing treatment and after-care support to meet the needs of people with mental health.
Because Government initiatives will never be able to completely address all mental health issues organisations like Samaritans will always have a vital role.
The huge level of contact made to Samaritans in the past 12 months not only indicates the strain which people find themselves under, but it is also a testament to the support on offer. People contact Samaritans because they know they will receive a professional and confidential service, no matter what time of day or night it is.
As we approach the holiday season, I know that Samaritans’ volunteers are scheduling their shifts to ensure that a 24 hour service will be available for people who find themselves in need of emotional support. This level of dedication is very commendable and – while the statistics highlighted today are very concerning – it is heartening to know that hundreds of people are so willing to give of their time to help others.