It’s no secret that individuals and families everywhere have felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their mental health, whether it be through furlough or loss of job, isolation from loved ones, downturn in heath or finances or having to cope with other significant change in life.
During this time, many have turned to Samaritans, a well-known UK and Ireland organisation which provides talking and listening support to anyone in emotional distress, struggling to cope or at risk of suicide.
Samaritans Awareness Day is on Saturday 24 July 2021, with Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub taking the opportunity to highlight the value of local and national services provided by the Samaritans charity.
The core of Samaritans’ activity is a free 24-hour telephone helpline, operational every day of the year and supported by 21,000 trained Volunteer Listeners across the country. Additionally, the organisation provides email, letter writing and self-help app support to those in need, as well as drop-in services, outreach work and prison visitation.
Coinciding with Samaritans Awareness Day, Samaritans promotes its #TalkToUs campaign every July. This seeks to raise awareness that the organisation’s services are available at all times to people experiencing depression, anxiety, anguish, fear, worry, suicidal thoughts or other negative emotions.
The importance and impact of the work of Samaritans has been magnified during the past 15 months as a result of the pandemic. During 2020, Samaritans reported that one in three callers talked about coronavirus, with many people feeling more anxious and distressed than ever before as a result of the crisis.
Interesting, an analysis of Samaritans calls has found that the most common concerns related to coronavirus were around loneliness, isolation, mental health, illness, family, finances and unemployment. Mary McNeil, Development Manager at Cornerstone House Centre, commented:
“On Samaritans’ Awareness Day, Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub stands in support of the priceless, compassionate and life-enhancing help which the charity Samaritans provides to people in our communities every day.
“In particular, we recognise and applaud the effort of the Cumbernauld volunteers of Samaritans and similar support organisations who have put aside their own concerns during the pandemic to be there for others who are struggling.
“Indeed, these volunteers have been a much-needed source of support for those whose regular networks were not available during the height of the health crisis.
“We would encourage anyone who is finding it difficult to cope at present and is in need of emotional help for any reason not to hesitate to telephone or email Samaritans at any time of the day or night.”
Samaritans was founded in 1953 by Chad Varah, an English vicar who was moved by his experience of taking a funeral of a 14-year old girl who had committed suicide because she feared she had contracted a sexually transmitted disease. In actual fact, the girl had been menstruating and Varah believed that the tragedy could have been prevented with the right intervention.
On the back of this, Varah placed an advertisement in a newspaper encouraging people to volunteer at his church, listening to those contemplating suicide. The movement grew rapidly from there, and within ten years there were 40 branches in the UK, including in Scotland as of 1959.
Reasons why people call or email Samaritans are wide-ranging. Examples include the experiencing of relationship or family problems, loss of a friend or family member through bereavement, job or study related stress, having suicidal thoughts and difficulty coping as a result of physical pain or health conditions, to name just a few.
Individuals calling or emailing Samaritans can be assured of complete confidentiality. In fact, unless a service user gives consent to pass on information, the organisation adheres to a strict code of confidentiality even after the death of a caller.
Despite its church-related origins and its connation for some of the parable of the Good Samaritan in the Bible, Samaritans identifies itself as a non-religious organisation. As such, Volunteer Listeners are wary not to impose any personal attitudes or beliefs on service users.
STRESS AND THE IMPORTANCE OF TAKING CARE OF OUR MENTAL HEALTH
According to Mental Health Foundation, approximately three-quarters of UK adults feel so stressed at some point each year that they feel overwhelmed or unable to cope.
Every day, thousands of people in Greater Cumbernauld are experiencing high levels of stress and it is damaging their health. Stress is one of the great public health challenges of our time, but it still isn’t being taken as seriously as physical health concerns.
Stress is a significant factor in mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. It is also linked to physical health problems like heart disease, problems with our immune system, insomnia and digestive problems. Individually we need to understand what is causing us personal stress and learn what steps we can take to reduce it for ourselves and those around us.
Some common stressors include experiencing something new or surprising, something that you perceive to threaten your capabilities or character and lack of control over a situation. We come across these stressors in many different environments. Examples of areas of life that can affect our stress levels include work, family, health and finances, to name a few.
Each person will have a different resistance to stress. Our bodies produce stress hormones (cortisol and catecholamines) that trigger a ‘fight or flight’ response. This can be both positive and negative; sometimes stress motivates us and helps us achieve our goals, but there are times when exposure to stressors becomes too frequent or too intense to deal with. Rather than helping us push through, this pressure can make us feel overwhelmed or unable to cope.
Typically, we respond to these stressors with physical, emotional and behavioural responses. Physical responses can often manifest through symptoms like headaches, an upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, sexual dysfunction and sleeping problems. Emotionally, stress can cause depression, panic attacks, anxiety and other forms of worry. Behaviourally, stress can become harmful when people respond with unhealthy habits such as smoking, excessive drinking or comfort eating.
Nobody is immune to stress, yet we don’t always notice when it is happening to us. Since stress is a normal part of human existence, it is important to arm ourselves with knowledge so that we recognise when stress rears its ugly head. If you are someone who feels stressed a lot of the time, learning some simple coping strategies can make a huge difference to your quality of life.
Although mental health issues can be normal, they can also be quite challenging to overcome. That’s why it’s so important to talk to someone if you’re experiencing low mood, stress, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, and why services such as those provided by Samaritans are so important.
If you are feeling distressed, you can phone Samaritans free of charge on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The telephone helpline is open at all times and the organisation aims to respond to emails within 24 hours.
Meanwhile, letters to Samaritans can be addressed to Chris, Freepost RSRB-KKBY-CYJK, PO Box 9090, Stirling, FK8 2SA.