Samaritans Ireland is hoping to reach even more people in need of emotional support through a new dedicated email address.
The new Ireland only email firstname.lastname@example.org is being launched at a time when the charity is experiencing a surge in telephone calls.
Samaritans Ireland answered more than 625,000 calls for help last year and sent almost 25,000 text replies.
There has been a 4% year on year increase in telephone calls — in 2016 volunteers answered 600,716 calls.
Young people, in particular, are expected to reach out to volunteers through the new email address.
Irish regional director with the Samaritans, Cindy O’Shea, said the volunteers would be available to respond to the new email service around the clock seven days a week just like the charity’s freephone helpline and text message service.
“Samaritans volunteers in Ireland have answered 2.3m calls since the launch of the freephone — 116 123 in April 2014,” said Ms O’Shea, a volunteer with the charity for 10 years. “We also reply to those who text us, write to us and are happy for people to visit us in our branches across the country.”
Ms O’Shea said there was a demographic divide between those who would use the email and SMS service and those who use the phone line. Under 35s are more likely to use social media and text services and over 35s are more likely to use the phone service.
Sometimes, she said, people find it easier to write down their concerns and convey them through email and text.
Ms O’Shea said a big barrier for a lot of people contacting the service in the past had been the cost of making a telephone call.
“In 2013 around 300,000 people called us but in the two years after the freephone number was launched the number of calls increased by 70%. At this point, it has increased by 100%.
“Aside from the fact that we reduced the telephone cost barrier, we were there at a time when people needed to call a service like the Samaritans.
“The freephone number was launched during the recession. A lot of people had problems with finance and unemployment and found they had no one to talk to.”
Mr O’Shea said the charity was associated with suicide, but only 20% of their calls are about suicide and self-harm. “Most of our calls are about the general human condition but we have noticed that more people who are experiencing loneliness and isolation are calling us.”
Samaritans has 20 branches across Ireland with 12 in the Republic and eight in Northern Ireland, with a total of 2,500 active volunteers.
Ms O’Shea said they always needed new volunteers.
“At the moment we have nearly 2,000 volunteers in the Republic of Ireland and they provide a phenomenal service.
“Even during the bad weather last week we still managed to open and provide a limited service. Last Saturday alone we answered 2,000 calls.”
Ms O’Shea said she welcomed the increasing focus on mental health by both the Government and HSE had enabled people to talk more openly about mental health
“It is very much normalising mental health as an issue. It is almost like giving people permission to talk about their mental health and to be more aware of looking after their mental health, which is really important.”
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