Each call is unique and deeply personal, but they always start the same.
“Samaritans, can I help you?”
Thirty years ago, Pam Rutter saw an advert in her local paper asking for Samaritans volunteers.
“I thought I might make a good listener, so I decided to apply,” she told Sky News.
Cost of living calendar – reveal a different story every day
More than three decades later, she is still there, at the other end of the phone – and the Christmas season is no different.
“With the lights, the music, the decorations, the food, parties, it feels as if the world telling us that we ought to be joyful and generous and happy at Christmas,” said the Birmingham branch volunteer – who also works as regional director of the West Midlands.
“The whole world seems to paint a picture of that sort of Christmas.
“And that adds extra pressure if there are tensions within relationships, tensions within families – that is exacerbated by the fact that Christmas quite often means that more people are gathered in a small space all of the time and that causes its own tensions.
“Then the opposite end of the spectrum are people seeing this apparent jollity going on and knowing they are going to be alone.”
‘Discernable’ increase in calls
This year, she said there has been a “discernable but small” increase in the number of calls the team are getting.
“We really see all of human life, all of life’s experiences, and so the list of things that people talk to us about is enormous,” she said.
“And it’s usually headed up by relationships, family, mental illness, physical illness, loneliness, all the sorts of things really that people might be struggling with.”
With the cost of living crisis piling on the pressure, more people are turning to the volunteers with concerns about money.
“It’s really important to talk, rather than bottling it up, because talking can often be therapeutic,” said Pam.
“The mere fact that you’ve actually got the chance to say what is on your mind without interruption.”
‘We don’t know what happens next – and we have to live with that’
Even when the caller feels suicidal, Pam never knows what happens after they finish talking.
“I don’t know what the outcome of that call is. And we have to live with that – whatever the situation is, whether it’s somebody feeling suicidal, or something else.
“They go off and say goodbye at the end of the call, and we don’t know what happens next.
“And that is part of the reality of being a Samaritan – just being there in the moment, for the caller when they need to talk.”
But that’s what they are trained to do: “We are trained to just listen, even in their darkest hour when they are feeling really desperate.”
A man with a telephone
The organisation started almost 70 years ago as a dedicated place to help people contemplating suicide.
In the words of its founder, a vicar called Chad Varah, Samaritans was just “a man willing to listen, with a base and an emergency telephone”.
Today it has around 22,000 volunteers working at more than 200 branches across the UK and Ireland.
Every 10 seconds, Samaritans respond to a call for help.
And this Christmas, even amidst all the festivities, they’ll still be there.
Where to go for help over Christmas
If you are struggling this Christmas, whether it be with finances or your mental health, here are some places you can turn to for help.
Turn2us is a national charity which tackles financial insecurity. It offers services to calculate what benefits you may be entitled to and runs a helpline to give support and information to people who don’t have access to the internet or find it hard to go online.
Their helpline: 0808 802 2000
StepChange provides free, expert debt advice either online or via the phone. You can speak to them about your debts, and they will take a look at your financial situation and advise you on what you can do next.
Their debt advice helpline: 0800 138 1111.
Citizens Advice assists people with legal, debt, consumer, housing and other problems. It provides information on what help you may be able to get from the government or your local council to afford essentials like food and bills.
You can either go to a local Citizens Advice office or talk to advisers online, Monday to Friday.
The national phone service is open 9-5pm Monday to Friday: 0800 144 8848.
Relay UK – if you can’t hear or speak on the phone, you can type what you want to say: 18001 then 0800 144 8884.
If you think it’s an emergency, or you would like to speak to someone on the phone:
You can call the Samaritans helpline: 116 123.
Monday to Sunday at any time, calls are free from mobiles and landlines.
The Listening Place
The Listening Place offers face-to-face support in London for those who feel like life is no longer worth living. Unfortunately, it does not offer online support.
To book an appointment, call: 02039067676.