Volunteers on hand to listen to Fifers needing support over festive season and New Year

Emma Gale received help from Samaritans and now she is a volunteer herself. Pic: Chris O'Donovan.
Emma Gale received help from Samaritans and now she is a volunteer herself. Pic: Chris O'Donovan.

It is that time of year when we are bombarded with festive advertising and images which encourage us to be jolly and enjoy celebrating Christmas and the New Year with our friends and family.

But one charity is reminding us that it isn’t a happy time for everyone, especially for those who are on their own or feeling isolated.

Step by Step members on an outing.

Step by Step members on an outing.

Samaritans will have volunteers available throughout the festive season and into New Year to listen to anyone who might be feeling overwhelmed or just need someone to talk to.

The charity is driving home the message that our loved ones need to know that it’s okay to not be okay.

The move comes as new figures reveal one in three calls to Samaritans at this time of year are from people who feel lonely and isolated.

The charity responded to more than 400,000 calls for help during December 2017, by phone, email and text throughout the UK and Ireland. And despite all the festivities, more than 11,000 of those calls for help and emotional support came in on Christmas Day, with a third dealing with loneliness and isolation.

One woman who knows just how much of a difference it can make having someone to talk to is Emma Gale.

She endured years of health problems and was unable to get a diagnosis and in the run up to Christmas two years ago, she was sent home from hospital feeling ill, very lonely and a burden to everyone around her.

Emma decided her family would be better off without her so she made plans to end her life. She said: “After driving to a quiet spot, I decided to call Samaritans for the first and only time in my life. I just needed someone to talk to, so I didn’t feel so alone.

“The impact of that call was huge, it was a listening non-judgemental ear. From there my life completely turned around. The next day I went to a hospital appointment and I got a diagnosis for a rare genetic condition. I will never forget what that Samaritan did for me that Christmas, they gave me the biggest gift possible – the gift of life.”

Emma’s life has changed so much since that call that now she’s become a Samaritans volunteer herself. And she was doing a shift on the ‘phones over the Christmas period this year for the first time.

Experienced Samaritans volunteer Mary Deery was also on the phones. Mary said: “Until you’ve sat in a Samaritans’ phone room and taken those calls over the Christmas period, you have no idea how tough it can be for a lot of people.

“Some people assume Samaritans are only about suicide prevention, but there’s so much more to what we do, so many issues we deal with on a daily basis. Christmas and New Year feels like a condensed version of that, people’s problems seem to be turned up a notch at this time of year, it can be tough, but it also makes it extremely rewarding. The best present we can give someone is our time to listen.”

Eric Christie, publicity officer, Samaritans of Kirkcaldy and District, said: “Many people are not looking forward to this time of year for a lot of different reasons. However, there is one common thread which they all share – negative thoughts and feelings. We want people to know that Samaritans are ready to support them.

“Believe me, this definitely can help ease their pain having shared it with someone who genuinely cares.”

Samaritans CEO Ruth Sutherland said: “If you’re feeling like it’s all too much, let someone know, don’t hide your feelings. You can always call Samaritans. Feeling lonely and isolated can be amplified at this time of year. Just having someone to listen can be a huge relief and make things easier to bear.”

Anyone can contact Samaritans at any time for free from any phone on 116 123. People can also email: jo@samaritans.org or visit www.samaritans.org

Taking it one step at a time to cope with the loss of a loved one

The Christmas and New Year period can also be a difficult time for those who have lost a loved one.

Cruse Bereavement Care Scotland is a charity which supports children, young people and adults when someone dies. It offers a programme in Fife – Step by Step, which is a social group supporting bereaved adults who feel lonely or socially isolated. It has groups in Kirkcaldy, Methil and Glenrothes.

Jacqueline MacGregor, who is a trained counsellor and is the current co-ordinator of Step by Step, said: “For some, this time of year can be difficult and unsettling whether you have been bereaved some time ago or it is your first year without your loved one.

“Everyone grieves in different ways so if, however, your emotions appear to become intense try to be gentle with yourself. Remember that it is fine to have a change of mind with those arrangements you made, if perhaps you no longer feel they are right for you at that moment in time.”

She said there are helpful rituals which people can do to help them cope with their grief over the festive period and into the new year. These include: lighting a candle to burn in memory of their loved one, visiting the grave or writing a letter or in a journal about their thoughts can also be very therapeutic and help to deal with the feelings of loss.

○To find out more details about the Step by Step programme email: stepbystep@crusescotland.org.uk or telephone 07432 635 406.