Talking to Samaritan Volunteers - World Suicide Prevention Day.
We spoke to two Samaritan volunteers about their experience as Samaritans.
- Cat and Tim
- 18 mins
Tom: Hello and welcome to Episode 37 of the Make Things Better podcast. Today I'm joined by two of my volunteer... how do you call it?
Tom: Yeah, two co-volunteers, who work at the Samaritans.
Tim: There's me thinking we were friends.
Tom: I feel bad now, should we start again?
Cat: No, this is natural.
Tom: Hello and welcome to Episode 37 of the Make Things Better podcast. Today I'm joined by two of my very good friends Cat and Tim, who are also volunteers at the Samaritans. Today we'll talk a little bit about our roles at the Samaritans, what we've learned and a few other things. So yeah, do you want to start off by introducing yourselves and maybe how you got into volunteering at the Samaritans?
Cat: Yeah, I'll go first. So I'm Cat and I have been volunteering with Samaritans now for two and a half years, and it really came about because I wanted to do something to help people in some way. I had been doing an introduction to counseling course and was enjoying it, and I thought I wanted to put this into practice. So I signed up for the Samaritans, and I'd always been kind of interested in what they do and inspired by their mission. So yeah, the rest is history.
Tom: Awesome. And how about you, Tim?
Tim: Yeah, my name is Tim, I've been at Samaritans for about two and a half years. There's a number of different reasons I got into it. Partly encountering suicidal people, people suffering from depression in my real life, and not knowing how to help someone in that situation. And then also just always feeling like I needed to give something back to society but never actually doing anything about it, constantly having that feeling from my 20s. And then coming across the service, knowing it existed but never using it and thinking, "Oh yeah, I could give that a try." And yeah, still doing it.
Tom: Yeah, amazing. And do you want to tell us, I don't know which one of you wants to, but do one of you want to tell us how us three met as well? It was a great weekend, one of the best of my life.
Cat: Oh yeah, I mean, it was the best of your life. No, well, I actually met you first at the Christmas party at the Samaritan Christmas party, and then we went to a Samaritan conference. So they hold an annual conference, and we went to, what was it, Preston? No, wait, Lancaster, that was it.
Tim: I offered to pick people up that were in town because I actually just wanted to offer to pick up Cat because you're the only person I know, and then Tom was like, "Oh yeah, I'll come," and I was like, "Cool." So then, yeah, we had that little road trip, yeah, made friends in the car, didn't we?
Tom: It was a great conference, we learned so much there. Some funny stories as well.
Cat: And to be honest, I think the median age there was about, I mean definitely over 40 anyway, so it was nice to have Tim and Tom there because yeah, I had someone to talk to and just chill with. We huddled together a bit. The most surprising thing I think was the fact that we seemed to be the most in control.
Tim: Yeah, we had a disco on the Saturday, and there were balloons flying about.
Cat: Oh yeah, there was glassware, glasses being knocked over. Yeah, but it was a really, really good informative weekend, to be honest. We had a few talks from different charities, and there were some Samaritans, well, all ex-Samaritans volunteers who had jointly... all of them had volunteered for like what, 130 years or something?
Cat: So it was really interesting.
Tom: Some of them had done like 50 or 60 years.
Cat: Yeah, like some of them had done like 30 or 40 years of volunteering, and they were hilarious, but they had some stories to tell, as you can imagine. So it's really interesting to hear about how the service has changed and you know.
Tim: Yeah, I want to bring a bit of that, their energy back in, you know, start drinking on the job, bring your ironing to work and stuff.
Tom: Sleepover in the branch.
Tim: Drive over to whatever his face's house that calls every month.
Cat: Yeah, bring the pet budgie in.
Tim: Yeah, look after someone's dog.
Cat: Yeah, because it was very different back then. I mean, they used to have, they would get calls from their local area, whereas now, you know, we volunteer at the Manchester branch, but we could have a call from anywhere in the country, which is probably, I mean, it makes a lot more sense really if you think about it because you're less likely to speak to someone who you might actually know, which could be obviously problematic.
Tim: Yeah, or even just anyone on the call, maybe someone that you didn't want them to know where you were, and back in the day they would just know because every call was local. So I think it's a bit safer this way.
Tom: Yeah, it's definitely changed a lot, and you've both been Samaritans for a few years now. Do you want to tell us a bit about what it's like being a Samaritan, like what do you sort of get up to, really?
Cat: Hmm, a lot of listening.
Tim: A lot of listening, yeah.
Cat: Yeah, it's a real mixed bag. I think when I first started volunteering, I think this is probably an experience most volunteers have when they first start out, I thought it was going to be a lot of calls of people like in crisis.
Tim: People on the bridges, on the platforms.
Cat: And it is very mixed. I think it kind of ties into the misconception about Samaritans in that people think that it is just a service for people who are actively suicidal or in a moment of crisis, but it's actually about preventing that crisis and being there for all people just going through a difficult time.
And you know, I think the most kind of interesting thing for me has been to speak to people from so many different backgrounds who I might never have got the chance to speak to and hear their stories, and it's helped me a lot realize that you know, there's a lot of themes that I think we all kind of share in our struggles that we go through in our suffering, you know, loneliness comes up a lot, not feeling good enough, feeling anxious about the way things are in the world at the moment. I think it's helpful for them to have someone to, at least I hope it is helpful for them to have someone to listen to them and really connect with them, but I think as volunteers, like it's also helpful for us to know, it's a privilege to hear these stories, but also they're kind of supporting us as well to know that we're not going through this alone.
Tim: I agree.
Tom: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. I mean that would be one of the things that I've personally learned about it is that as human beings like we all do struggle so much and it's just not always talked about and so when you're in that moment when you have anxiety or loneliness or shame or pain or you're not feeling good enough, it can be really lonely but actually there's loads of other people going through tough times as well. Tim, I was wondering what would you say you've learned over the last few years as a Samaritan?
Tim: I think, like connecting back to the reason I joined, I think I've learned a lot about how to be there for someone that is in crisis, you know, knowing your role in that situation and that you can't fix someone's life but that doesn't mean that you can't help them. Being able to be there for them and just being someone to listen for them and for them to talk to. It’s hugely helpful and I sort of learned that I get a lot from that feeling of being able to help someone, you know, once a week just go in and connect with people that you'd never otherwise talk to, listen to people's experiences that you'd never ever come across in your own life, where you sort of, you can be surrounded by people who are just like you, it's fascinating.
Tom: Yeah and the training is a really big part of Samaritans. What sort of skills would you say you've learned Cat since starting?
Cat: I think to actively listen because I mean I think that's like quite a skill that I don't think gets used a lot in society and to really hear and understand and empathise with someone because a lot of the time we're, you know, we're listening to someone but we're thinking about what we're going to say next or we're thinking about ourselves in that situation and one of the things I've noticed during my time as a volunteer is that I'm thinking less about myself and how I'm coming across and just really trying to put myself in this other person's shoes and imagine, you know, if I was that person what would I want someone to say or what would I want someone to do and ultimately they just want to feel heard, they want to feel understood, they want to feel like someone is out there and is empathising with their pain or their struggles and they might not be getting that at all in their life at that current moment and yeah I think that's one of the things that I've been able to also bring into my own life as well which has helped strengthen a lot of my relationships.
Tom: Yeah, is there anything you would add Tim?
Tim: No, I think that was good.
Tom: That was very good. Okay and with it being World Suicide Prevention Day as we post this, I'm wondering if you had sort of any, maybe like, not advice because I guess that's not really what we do, just maybe any thoughts to share on what you would recommend someone if they are going through a tough time?
Cat: Honestly, I would say if there's anyone that you can reach out to, like talk, tell someone what you're going through, remember that, you know, it's a cliche but you're not alone and whatever experience you're having at that time, it will pass, it always does and, you know, just know that there are people out there who do care and, you know, if you need, if you really can't think of anyone in your life that you could talk to about all of that, Samaritans is always there and it is a non-judgmental space for you to just talk freely and we won't direct you in any way or, you know, try to control your decision, whatever that may be, so it's just knowing that there are options out there for you.
Tom: Yeah, thank you for that.
Tim:Yeah, I don't think you don't ever have to go through it alone, even if there's no one around you that that will help you or the thing you're worried about is something you feel like you can't tell anyone, there is always that line that you can call and you don't have to be suicidal and it is confidential, so, you know, it's just you and the volunteer and it's just a conversation and I think even if you don't think it will, I think just saying it all out loud to another person with no consequences might be exactly what you need.
And if there's someone in your life that is also struggling, and they decide to open up to you, don't just be there for them and be there to listen to them, and don't try and fix it, and don't try and give them advice or tell them how they can make it better. Just ask them questions about their situation, just ask them about how they feel. They just need to talk. They don't need you to save them, basically.
Tom: Yeah, they're both really, really nice answers, and thank you both for coming on here and chatting with us, because I know it's like a sensitive topic, it's really hard to talk about, but hopefully this video might reach somebody and help them a little bit.
My final question for both of you is a question we ask every guest, what can people do to make things better? And you can interpret this however you like.
Cat: I would say, I think it's not, we need to stop thinking that it's selfish to look after ourselves. I mean, this is advice that I need to take as well. But I think if we were all to just take a step back and reflect on just what we're doing on a day-to-day basis, taking a step back to work out what we're feeling, noticing things, observing things, and not attaching narratives to that. And just trying to become more aware and more present. I think, you know, as a society as a whole, we can kind of do things with just more consciousness and more presence. And maybe our actions can be a little bit more skillful, you know. So in that way, we don't have to necessarily follow what everyone else is doing, when it's not actually maybe what's right for us.
Tom: Yeah, that's a great answer. How about you, Tim?
Tim: Yeah, a lot of the same. Just look out for the people around you and look after yourself. Do what you can to make yourself happy, as long as it's not making anyone else unhappy. Do what you can to make other people happy, as long as it doesn't make you unhappy.
Tom: Yeah, brilliant. All right, well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. And yeah, have an amazing rest of your day if you've watched or listened to this. I do appreciate it.
Tim: Thanks, Tom.
Tom: Yeah, cheers. Bye-bye.
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