The Samaritans will play a crucial role in the development of a national telephone service that will direct callers to the most suitable mental health service.
Minister for Mental Health and Older People Jim Daly said the new service is due to be launched later this year. It comes as it emerged that Samaritans volunteers in Ireland answered almost three million calls since the launch of a freephone helpline number five years ago.
An analysis of the use of the freephone helpline number 116 123 shows that 2.9m calls were answered by the charity's volunteers since 2014.
Six major telecom providers have agreed to support the Samaritans helpline for another five years.
BT Ireland, eir, Sky Ireland, Three Ireland, Virgin Media Ireland and Vodafone Ireland have extended their partnership and agreed to support the helpline until 2024.
Samaritans Irish regional director Cindy O'Shea said the charity's 1,800 volunteers in Ireland had given 376,500 listening hours on the phone since 2014.
“Samaritans has been supporting people in Ireland since 1961 but the introduction of freephone made a huge impact,” she said.
As well as answering phone calls volunteers support people by text, email and face to face meetings in branches, communities, prisons and at festivals.
More than half a million calls were answered by Samaritans volunteers last year and almost 46,000 text replies and 5,300 emails sent. A further 4,000 people were also given emotional support last year in a branch or at a festival.
The main issues people contacted the Samaritans about last year were mental health or illness (36.2%), isolation or loneliness (30%), family issues (28.5%) and relationship problems (20.9%).
Other concerns raised were about physical health or illness, bereavement, violence or abuse, drugs and/or alcohol issues, finance and/or unemployment.
Trustee for Samaritans Ireland Eleanor Farrell said everyone had moments in their life where they struggled to cope and talking really helped people in seeing a way through their problems.
“While we are there for some of the most vulnerable groups in society, you don't need to be suicidal to ring Samaritans," said Ms Farrell.
Minister Daly said the Samaritans will play a crucial role in the development of a national signposting telephone service. The service is being developed so that callers can be directed to the most suitable mental health service.
Mr Daly said the Samaritans and similar organisations would be included in the new service. He said there were many challenges because existing services must be integrated and brought in under the new arrangments.
In 2007 the European Commission reserved numbers beginning with 116 for services of social value that would be common across all EU member states. The number 116 123 has been given for all 24-hour emotional support helplines.
ComReg was charged with managing the assignment of the 116 numbers and awarded the emotional support helpline to Samaritans. The 116 123 number can be used any time for emotional support and will not show up on a caller's phone bill.