Sunday 26 March 2017

Calls to Samaritans rise as recession bites

Desperate cries for help were answered by the Samaritans every two minutes over the last year as the recession took its toll.

New figures revealed an additional 13,000 calls were made to its helpline with the economic crisis impacting on people's emotional well-being.

Suzanne Costello, director of Samaritans in Ireland, said one in eight calls were directly linked to financial difficulties, with others concerned about relationships, unemployment, anxiety about the future, bereavement and self-harm.

She warned the level of distress and anxiety was more intense than ever as people fear for their future as the recession drags on.

"You will have calls where people just simply cry for long periods of time before they gather themselves enough to speak and I think that example reflects how people are struggling to cope," said Ms Costello.

"That feeling of being overwhelmed and lots of problems coming from different places and all arriving at the once."

More than 500 people died by suicide last year.

Between November 2009 and October almost 361,000 calls were made to the Samaritans telephone helpline, with a third staying silent or hanging up within seconds.

Emotional support was given to another 243,000 callers - an annual rise of more than 1,000 month - who phoned its 24 hour helpline number 1850 60 90 90.

Volunteer Brian Gaynor said in a lot of situations people do not talk but simply need to hear a voice.

"We find people are just checking we are there, is there somebody else out there, is there somebody in this world at this time that I can talk to," he said.

"Yes there is and they hang up the phone. They are building up the confidence so they can talk to us."

Some 1,300 trained volunteers took an average 669 calls a day. Its busiest hour is between 9pm and 10pm on a Friday and busiest day is a Saturday, with the most amount of daily calls, 1,057, received on a Saturday in mid-August.

But over the past 50 years, services have expanded to include email, text messages, and face-to-face support in 12 centres nationwide, at major music festivals and shows and in three prisons.

Ms Costello said while investment in breaking down stigma about suicide in Ireland has been enormous she raised concerns over funding.

"Now that the country is in such grave financial crisis, all of those at work in the area of suicide prevention must work more cohesively to ensure there is no unnecessary duplication of services," she added.

"Critically, there must be continued investment in services and support for people with acute depression and anxiety, so that suicide rates do not continue to rise."

John Moloney, minister for mental health, admitted Government funding for mental health was totally inadequate but stressed campaigns are addressing the stigma attached to it.

He commended the Samaritans for supporting people long before mental health was recognised, and when suicide was still illegal.

"At a time of huge economic difficulties and huge stresses in the work place, never were the Samaritans more needed," he added.

Press Association

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