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in praise of



n recognition of their immense, all day, every week phone service, Samaritans Awareness Day takes place on 24 July (24/7 – clever, eh?). Formed by vicar Chad Varah in 1953, Samaritans’ constant, non-judgemental support – by phone, face to face, e-mail and letter – aims to ease emotional stress of any kind, providing a vital platform for anyone afflicted by anxiety and, in the worst cases, thoughts of suicide. That suicide is such a major concern in our advanced, Western society is a difficult fact to accept, but the tireless work of Samaritans also includes positive campaigns to encourage emotional health in all walks of life. KUDOS paid the Tunbridge Wells branch a visit to meet a volunteer and hear about their good work… Whether it’s stressful employment, complicated personal relationships or that familiar unexplainable malaise, noone is a stranger to emotional discomfort. Dependant on the severity of a given condition, there are multiple options available to aid those with these difficulties, from professional counselling to informal support groups. The job of Samaritans is not to rival or replicate the work of psychologists or counsellors, but to, in the words of local Tunbridge Wells volunteer Penny, “provide confidential emotional support to people who are in distress or despair, including those who are feeling suicidal.” Penny, one of 114 volunteers at the branch, details the ideal relationship between caller and listener. “We listen in a very positive way: we ask open questions and try to build up a relationship of trust with the caller…to try to get them to understand how they’re feeling.” Samaritans policy restricts listeners from directly advising its callers, instead advocating the idea that being listened to and lending people the opportunity to speak openly and unhindered can produce an effective, understated solution of its own. There are also difficulties with lending advice, as Penny explains. “We only hear one side of the story. In order to give advice, you close down someone’s options because you’re narrowing in on one particular problem.” One of 202 local branches across the country, the Tunbridge Wells branch provides an onsite, 24-hour, 7 days-a-week phone line, a drop-in

service and numerous external community projects. Extending its service north to south from Sevenoaks to Heathfield, and east to west from Cranbrook to East Grinstead, the branch’s school visits are one of their most pro-active schemes, encouraging teenagers to engage with their own, and others, emotional health. “Sometimes they [the teenagers] are very, very responsive!” Penny laughs, “We’re always amazed at the wealth of questions we get; they’re genuinely interested.” Further north into Kent, the branch also maintains a strong relationship with its Maidstone colleagues, through a program providing support for inmates at HM Maidstone Prison. With this local and national focus, Samaritans provides an invaluable, compassionate service to millions of people, and the emotional distress in which listeners like Penny hear their callers can be alternately intensely traumatic and profoundly gratifying. “We can sometimes be the last person that a suicidal person talks to…it can be extremely difficult and very harrowing. But, it is a privilege to be able to talk to someone in their last moments. When we do speak to people in that very desperate situation, over the course of the conversation, they may change their mind… those calls are very rewarding ones.” Samaritans national support line is 08457 909090, and they can be reached by e-mail at jo@samaritans.or jo@samaritans.orgg. The Tunbridge Wells branch can be reached any time, night or day on 01892 532323, and is open to visitors from 9am to 9pm. Samaritans website:

In praise of Samaritans  

Health advice article on the Samaritans charity.

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