Calls to Samaritans soar

THE county's stressed-out population are relying more and more heavily on the Samaritans to help cope with the pressures of modern day living – with branches across Suffolk witnessing a massive rise in calls.

THE county's stressed-out population are relying more and more heavily on the Samaritans to help cope with the pressures of modern day living – with branches across Suffolk witnessing a massive rise in calls.

Volunteers fielded nearly 10,000 extra contacts last year at the charity's Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds' offices, while the number of emailed inquiries, mostly from young people, also shot up.

The rise has left both branches keen for extra helpers to step forward to field calls from an increasing number of people – who could be suicidal or just in need of a listening ear.

"In the past year we have had quite a substantial increase in contacts," said Morag Blue, branch director for the Ipswich Samaritans, where 33,000 inquiries were handled last year, a rise of 5,000 on the previous 12 months.


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"We are also getting more and more young people responding through emails to us, and we expect that to continue as they find it a more comfortable way to respond.

"We certainly live in a much more stressed society and whether the increase is just a general thing like that I do not know."

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Mrs Blue said the Ipswich branch of the charity must meet running costs of £130 each day, a total annual bill of nearly £50,000, purely from fundraising. Extra volunteers, she said, were also needed to ensure all calls were answered.

"We work with a big number of people going through emotional crisis, but not all callers are suicidal or have active suicidal thoughts," added Mrs Blue. "We are there for all people going through a particularly difficult time in their lives, providing a listening ear.

"Often we are the voice which is there when everyone else has shut down for the day. There is always a Samaritan to talk to, and we always stress the confidentiality of the service so the callers can say absolutely anything without being judged."

Colin Nicholson, director of the Bury branch, said the number of contacts rose from 20,000 in 2002 to 26,000 in 2003 and 30,000 last year. Again, the office – which must meet annual running costs of £26,000 – experienced a large increase in emails from younger people.

"I think people are much more stressed now, and even youngsters are subject to huge expectations, not only from themselves but from their parents," said Mr Nicholson.

"In our jobs, there are also reducing staff numbers and expectations for people to pick up more work. People cannot cope with it – but hopefully will do by talking to us.

"Probably half the people who contact us have got suicidal thoughts, and the other half are concerned and upset and angry and just want to talk to somebody to offload everything they could not say to parents or friends."

n Anyone interested in volunteering with Ipswich Samaritans can attend an open evening on June 2 between 7.30pm and 9pm at the branch in St Helen's Street.

n Officials from the Bury branch will man a mobile unit in the town's Abbey Gardens between 27 and 29 May. Anyone interested in volunteering is welcome.

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