One in eight calls to Samaritans due to recession

ONE in eight calls to the Samaritans is now due to the effects of the recession, with some people simply ringing up to sob down the phone line.

Launching its first ever ‘impact report’ for Ireland, the Samaritans said there was a greater need than ever for more resources in the area of mental health, and also a need for more cohesion between support services.

Minister with responsibility for mental health strategy, John Moloney, said he intended to bring groups from around the country together in January to see how limited funding can be best used to help those most in need.

The stark findings of the Samaritan report includes:

n243,000 calls from October 2009 to November 2010, up 13,000 on the previous 12 month period.

* An average of 713 calls on Saturdays, the busiest day of the week.

n236 calls or 35% of average daily total between 6pm and midnight.

* A growing number of people accessing Samaritans services through email, text message and face-to-face meetings, including a rise in the number of people seeking emotional support at festivals such as Oxegen and the Cork Midsummer Festival.

Samaritans Ireland director Suzanne Costello said that while volunteer numbers was not currently an issue of concern, the growth in calls in the past year had meant there were “capacity issues”.

The organisation has 1,300 volunteers who have received up to 20 weeks of training before they man the phone lines.

Ms Costello said the recession had made a dramatic impact, with the number of contacts relating to it jumping from one in 10 to one in eight.

“We will have calls where people will simply cry for a time before they can speak. That reflects how people are struggling to cope.”

Ms Costello said feelings of depression and of feeling overwhelmed were common, and covered a range of issues from loneliness and alcoholism to bereavement, relationship difficulties and fears of unemployment.

Of particular note was the fact that the level of distress expressed by callers was more intense than in previous years, and that this was particularly noticeable regarding calls about financial concerns.

She said the recession was taking a significant “emotional toll” on people and said there was a real need for support groups and agencies to be more cohesive in their response and more cost effective in how they work.

She said the National Office of Suicide Prevention could help coordinate such a response given the huge number of often small, local groups working in the area of suicide prevention.

Mr Moloney said work would need to continue on the See Change campaign promoting positive mental health, as well as greater intervention with children and adolescents. He recalled how recently, for the first time, he heard a parish priest tell a congregation that support services were available for people suffering mental health issues, and at the subsequent open evening, 100 people turned up.

He said funding would need to be applied in a “cohesive” manner, but that this would not necessarily mean groups would have to amalgamate, rather that there could be “an amalgamation of intent.”

* www.samaritans.ie or 1850 609090 or 116 123.

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