Niall Mulligan: Social distancing puts services under strain

Covid-19 is affecting how we live our lives, and it’s normal this will impact people’s mental health. Samaritans Ireland is here to help but needs public support, says Niall Mulligan.

Niall Mulligan: Social distancing puts services under strain
Jack and Conor Murphy chatting across the wall to their cousins Rian and Lucy O’Donoghue while keeping their social distance at Whitepoint, Cobh, Co Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane

Samaritans Ireland is very conscious that the news is dominated by Covid-19 at the moment and we’re aware that this can be an anxious time for many. The coronavirus outbreak is affecting the way many of us live our lives.

We are answering between 950 and 1,200 calls on a given day and the key issue for us is that calls appear to be busier and longer. 

While our service is confidential, we know that in general when people ring Samaritans for emotional support, they often mention several concerns including isolation and loneliness, anxiousness and mental health, family and relationship issues, and financial worries and it is no different in the current crisis which has magnified some of these issues for callers.

Therefore, Samaritans is a critical service, needed now more than ever. Many people may be feeling more worried or unsettled by what’s going on in the world. 

It might feel like things are changing, and there is a lot that’s outside of our control.

Because of coronavirus, there are a lot of unknowns about the immediate and long-term future, and it’s becoming clearer that we are going to have to do things a little differently, particularly in the way we live our day-to-day lives. 

It’s natural that this uncertainty and change will affect people’s mental wellbeing. At Samaritans, we’re committed to helping those who are struggling, however we can.

The constant stream of unsettling news can affect your mood, and we’d really encourage you to talk to your friends and family about your feelings. 

Do this however you can within social distancing guidelines — whether it is by video messaging, over the phone, texting, or over the garden fence.

It is important that we look after our mental health as well as our physical health. 

Whilst we are physically isolated, it’s more important than ever for us to feel socially connected, so try and reach out to people to talk, and try to be there to listen to others.

Our dedicated volunteers are going above and beyond to be available for those in need during these unprecedented times and continue to operate our phone service from our branches wherever possible.

With more than 2,300 volunteers in 22 branches across Ireland, we are a lifeline for those who have nowhere else to turn, supporting more and more people every year. 

Niall Mulligan: Social distancing puts services under strain

Our volunteers also reach more people in places ranging from prisons to schools, workplaces, hospitals, festivals and train stations.

And in the midst of this crisis, it is our volunteers who are doing everything they can to be there for people who need us most in these unprecedented times. I would like to thank them for their dedication and commitment.

Volunteer safety remains a priority, so the situation is continually being monitored and all branches are applying strict guidelines with regard to hygiene standards and social distancing and also to adhere to Government advice.

However, Samaritans volunteers will continue to provide our normal service where possible. 

Our helpline is there for anyone who is worried, anxious and concerned in general — phone 116 123 or email 

Trained volunteers are ready to listen with no judgment, no pressure, and will give you the space to talk about what’s on your mind.

On top of this, for those worried about their mental health during the coronavirus outbreak, Samaritans have also provided some online resources that might help them look after themselves or someone they care

In relation to people worried about contracting the virus or worried that they may have symptoms of the virus, we are advising them to contact the HSE or to ring their GP and signposting them to the HSE website on Covid-19

Samaritans Ireland relies heavily on public donations to maintain our vital service and to ensure that our volunteers are there for the people who need them.

We are making every effort to ensure that we are able to provide emotional support to anyone in crisis. 

    Useful information
  • The HSE have developed an information pack on how to protect yourself and others from coronavirus. Read it here
  • Anyone with symptoms of coronavirus who has been in close contact with a confirmed case in the last 14 days should isolate themselves from other people - this means going into a different, well-ventilated room alone, with a phone; phone their GP, or emergency department;
  • GPs Out of Hours services are not in a position to order testing for patients with normal cold and flu-like symptoms. HSELive is an information line and similarly not in a position to order testing for members of the public. The public is asked to reserve 112/999 for medical emergencies at all times.
  • ALONE has launched a national support line and additional supports for older people who have concerns or are facing difficulties relating to the outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in Ireland. The support line will be open seven days a week, 8am-8pm, by calling 0818 222 024

However, Covid-19 is changing our lives and our services are under strain.

Now, more than ever, we need the public’s continued support, so we are calling on the generosity of the Irish public to help us ensure that we continue to be here for anyone who needs support. 

A donation to our emergency appeal will help us work faster on different ways to be there and reach those who are struggling to cope.

For more than 50 years, Samaritans have provided a listening ear to anyone who needs support, which has been possible through the public’s kind donations. 

A donation as little as €5 will help volunteers to answer a call for help from someone struggling to cope and be there when people need support the most.

To make a donation and find out other ways you can support Samaritans please visit:

[I]Niall Mulligan is executive director of Samaritans Ireland.

    If you or someone you know has been affected by mental health issues you can contact:

  • Samaritans - 116 123 or email
  • Pieta House (Suicide & Self-harm) - 1800 247 247 or 01 623 5606
  • Aware (Depression, Bi-Polar Disorder & Anxiety) - 1800 80 48 48
  • Grow (Mental Health support & Recovery) - 1890 474 474
  • Bodywhys (Eating Disorders Associations of Ireland) - 1890 200 444
  • Childline (for under 18s) - 1800 66 66 66

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