Volunteers to provide a listening ear to Fifers in need this Christmas

As tinsel and fairy lights adorn the streets up and down the country, it can be easy to overlook how the festive season can be the hardest time of the year for some.

Thursday, 19th December 2019, 3:35 pm
Sheila Ottiwell, deputy director Kirkcaldy Samaritans, said volunteers will be working over Christmas to listen to those in need of emotional support.
Sheila Ottiwell, deputy director Kirkcaldy Samaritans, said volunteers will be working over Christmas to listen to those in need of emotional support.

But volunteers at Kirkcaldy Samaritans will be working throughout this festive season to make sure there’s someone there to listen for anyone who is struggling.

Last Christmas, Samaritans – the only charity that is there for anyone struggling to cope 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – responded to more than 300,000 calls for help.

And in Scotland alone, volunteers took more than 15,000 calls for help over the festive season, including over 400 on Christmas day alone.

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Sheila Ottiwell, deputy director Kirkcaldy Samaritans.

On Christmas Eve 2018, almost 1,650 dedicated Samaritans volunteers were reporting for duty at Samaritans branches across the UK and Republic of Ireland. The very next day, over 1,475 Samaritans volunteers headed to branches and responded to thousands of calls for help from people feeling overwhelmed on December 25.

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One of the volunteers who answers emails and text messages at Kirkcaldy Samaritans.

In Scotland, 140 volunteers gave up their time between on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to be there to listen for anyone who was struggling to cope.

Each volunteer answered an average of 12 calls per Christmas shift, with callers sharing a wide range of personal challenges from mental and physical health struggles to family issues, relationship problems and loneliness.

However, Sheila Ottiwell, deputy director at Kirkcaldy Samaritans, told the Press the volunteers in the town branch don’t notice a large increase in calls at Christmas as they are busy all year round.

She said: “To be honest we don’t receive more calls at this time of year than at any other because we are so busy all the time. We get a call every six seconds and that’s the whole organisation nationwide.

“We find we have no sooner put the phone down than it rings again. It is no different at this time of the year – people have issues they are strugging with all year round.

“But what we do get at this time of year is more thank yous, especially on Hogmanay or New Year’s Day. People thank us by saying that we have kept them going throughout the year. It makes it all worthwhile.

“When people are reflecting at the end of the year, that is when they thank us for being there to listen.”

She continued: “When I have been on a shift over Christmas it’s because people are lonely all the time. A lot of people who call us are isolated all year round but some people might feel more isolated at Christmas because it is a family time.”

Some of the volunteers at the Kirkcaldy branch said people contact them to talk about of all kinds of issues, not just because they are having suicidal thoughts.

One of them said: “You pick the phone up and you don’t know what you are going to get.

“It’s a massive range of issues from bereavement to relationships, to isolation, drug and alcohol, mental health, historic abuse and abuse generally.

“Also every call is different. So they might be the same issues but people react in different ways. We don’t give advice and we don’t judge, we are here just to listen and it is completely confidential.”

Sheila said: “Three quarters of our calls are not from people contemplating suicide. People associate us with suicide, but we want people to associate us more with positive emotional health and to think of ourselves more as professional listeners.

“But it is really important to stress that we will be here over the Christmas period so, we are here to provide emotional support to anyone who might need it.”

A relief to speak to someone ...

Sophie (26), knows how hard the festive build up can be. After going through a marital breakup in the months leading up to Christmas she was also struggling with severe depression. Samaritans was there to support her as her marriage reached breaking point.

She said: “Last year was a real struggle for me with my mental health, which led to the cracks in my marriage, usually I’m like a big kid at Christmas, but I couldn’t think of anything worse than playing the fake ‘happy’ charade.

“It made me feel even more depressed when all my family and friends were excited in the run up to the big day. The pressure of enjoying yourself and everything being perfect can make mental health issues a thousand times worse as you’re supposed to be bubbly and joyful. I didn’t want to ruin it for anyone else.

“The only people I could show my true feelings to, even the deep dark ones, was Samaritans. It was a relief to speak to someone that wasn’t expecting you to be jolly.

“Samaritans’ help gave me my life back and I will be forever thankful for that.”

Kirkcaldy Samaritans will also be taking part in Brew Monday next month which will see volunteers holding an awareness event at Kirkcaldy Railway Station. The coffee morning is taking place on January 20, which is claimed to be the most depressing day of the year. They are teaming up with the British Transport Police to offer tea, coffee and a chat on the day as well as raise awareness and funds for the charity.

Anyone can contact Samaritans FREE any time from any phone on 116 123; email: [email protected] or visit www.samaritans.org. People can also speak to volunteers face to face at their nearest branch.