6 min read

I recently learned that 24th July (or 24/7) is Samaritans Awareness Day. I LOVE that the date is also when they are contactable! By that I don’t mean once a year, but more conveniently, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

HAPPY SAMARITANS AWARENESS DAY!!!

Samaritans is an organisation I regularly point people towards when they might need someone to talk to, and so I thought this would be a great opportunity to not only celebrate the excellent work of the volunteers, but to talk a little about what they do and how they can help.

Samaritans offer listening and support to people whenever they need it. The five core values of Samaritans are:

  • Listening
  • Confidentiality
  • Non-judgemental
  • People making their own decisions
  • Human contact

These are such important factors when it comes to supporting someone who needs help. As I’ve talked about so many times before, it can take a long time for someone to feel able to open up about whatever might be troubling them. So it’s crucial that they feel heard, and they can trust that what they say will remain confidential. They need that safe space where they can talk freely and without judgement.

That’s just a very brief version of what Samaritans do. I could talk at length about all their great work, but instead I’ll point you to the website where you can read all about it.

Back to Samaritans Awareness Day! This year we’re all being encouraged to become better listeners, and to pledge one of the following things:

  • To listen without being distracted
  • To listen without interrupting
  • To check in on loved ones more often

Learning to listen properly can take some practice, but it’s completely worthwhile. That might sound ridiculous – I get that! But there’s a difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is involuntary. It just happens to you without any effort being required. Listening is intentional and focused. ‘Active Listening’ is another level of listening. It’s a technique involving careful listening and observation of non-verbal cues, asking clarifying questions, and paraphrasing what has been said.

If you’re looking to brush up on your listening skills, you can buy ‘How To Listen: Tools for opening up conversations when it matters most’, which is an excellent guide to improving your skills. It’s so good in fact, that I have it in both paperback and on my kindle!

Now, as you probably know by now, I’m incredibly passionate about mental health, breaking the stigma surrounding it, and generally just making life a bit easier for people. And I’m incredibly fortunate to share that interest with one of the greatest humans ever, Samaritan, and all-round good-egg, my completely anonymous and unidentifiable acquaintance! (This person really does exist, but wanted to remain anonymous. I definitely haven’t made them up!)

By day they work in tech, and for around the last 6 months they’ve been volunteering with Samaritans in their free time. Today, we’re talking about what it takes to be a Samaritan…

People working in the tech industry often get stereotyped as living in a darkened-basement and not socialising with others (for the record, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!). Software and Samaritans seem like very different things! Would you say there are skills in your everyday life that lend themselves to your volunteering work?

Software and the Samaritans are obviously quite different, but the underlying soft skills such as communication are definitely transferrable, both ways.

I know personally from being a Mental Health First Aider that it can be tough going at times when someone comes to you in distress. What made you want to get involved, and how do you deal with what you hear? How do you unwind after a shift?

I’ve always struggled with my own mental health and I don’t like the thought of someone else feeling that way if it can be helped, even if that’s just by listening.

To be honest, I don’t do anything specific to unwind. The quiet drive home is usually enough. As for dealing with calls, I just try to keep things in perspective. Life is complicated, and we are all human. I always try to relate to the callers struggles as if they were my own, as opposed to disassociating from them. I feel this helps me connect with people.

What would you say you’ve learned since you started working with Samaritans? Do you think volunteering has changed you in any way? 

Active listening. I’ve always considered myself to be a fairly good listener, but active listening is a skill that requires practice. The Samaritans spend a great deal of time teaching the volunteers how to actively listen.

I don’t think volunteering has changed me in any particular way, although I’d say it’s helped me to become a more rounded person. The skills learned in the Samaritans are transferable to almost any situation you can think of, if it involves communication.

What would you say to someone who was thinking about volunteering?

I’d say go for it! We’re always looking for more volunteers and I don’t think it’s something that anyone would regret doing.

What qualities would you say someone needs to volunteer?

That’s hard for me to answer as everyone is different and brings so many different skills to the table. I think the main combination of skills is the ability to actively listen without judgement.

I only learned recently that as well as being able to get in contact by phone, people can also email or write a letter. What have you learned that you didn’t already know about Samaritans?

It came as a surprise to me that you can call the Samaritans on behalf of someone else. Provided you know the person well enough and are worried about them in some way, it’s possible for the Samaritans to give them a call. Check out the website: https://www.samaritans.org/

Finally, are there any common misconceptions about Samaritans that you’d like to clear up?

You don’t have to be suicidal to call. It’s a free phone number, and the service is available 24 hours a day. People call for a whole variety of reasons, from having a bad day to being suicidal, and everything in between.

On behalf of humans of code, I’d like to thank my completely anonymous acquaintance and all of the other fantastic volunteers at Samaritans for all the completely selfless work you do! You are absolute heroes. We will be celebrating you today, and the countless lives you’ve saved.

There are SO many ways you can get involved in supporting Samaritans that the best thing for me to do is to link directly to their ‘Support us’ page! Please do go and have a look yourself. Whether it be volunteering, fundraising, or buying a gift from the online shop, there will be some way for you to make a difference.

Please remember, if you’re struggling to cope you can contact Samaritans any time of the day or night. 

Take care of yourselves 🙂

Debi <3

Debi Skea

Debi Skea

Director & Co-Founder at Humans of Code