The importance of listening: an interview with a Samaritans volunteer

Mental Health

Lucy became a Samaritans listening volunteer two years ago. Having been on both sides of the Samaritans telephone line, Lucy learned the benefits of talking and how important it is to listen

Hi Lucy, can you tell us a bit more about yourself?

I’m Lucy and I’m a 44-year-old single mum of two boys aged 18 and eight. I’ve been a listening volunteer with Samaritans for two years now. I volunteer at the Blackpool branch where I have the privilege of working alongside the most amazing team of people I have ever met!

Why did you become a Samaritans listening volunteer?

I guess the answer to this question starts 18 years ago when I called Samaritans for support for myself. I was suffering from severe postnatal depression following the birth of my eldest son and I was struggling to see a way through. I called several times during this period of my life and truly believe I wouldn’t be alive today if I hadn’t have spoken to somebody back then.

I always knew that one day I wanted to give something back but obviously needed to wait until the time was right. I focused on my career as a nurse and raising my family, until six years ago when I was widowed. I could no longer be a nurse as I had no-one to help with childcare, so I took a career break until my youngest child started school and then started a part-time job.

It was then that I decided it was time to start to volunteer with Samaritans. I wasn’t fulfilled in work, but becoming a listening volunteer helped me feel like I was doing something worthwhile with my time.

Talking with someone who is actively listening can help a person work out solutions to their problems, or at least feel that they can cope with whatever it is they are going through.

What have you learned since being a volunteer?

I’ve learned that it’s good to talk. But more importantly, I’ve learned that it’s vital to listen. I don’t mean just hearing the words that are spoken, but to really listen to what is being said. Listening helps the person talking feel that you really care about them. It helps you understand what they are feeling and build a relationship with them, which is vital if they are to trust you with their thoughts and feelings.

Talking with someone who is actively listening can help a person work out solutions to their problems, or at least feel that they can cope with whatever it is they are going through. Things somehow become more manageable just by the process of talking them through.

Has there been a change in calls since the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown?

The branch has been as busy as ever throughout lockdown, with about 1:3 callers directly mentioning coronavirus as a reason they are calling. As a nation, we are experiencing something none of us have been through before, and it’s understandable that people are worried or concerned about what is happening and how it is impacting their lives.

It’s so important that we keep being there for our callers during this time. We keep hearing about how other services have had to close their doors, leaving people looking for new ways of coping. There have certainly been people contacting us who have never done so before.

What are some of the concerns callers are talking to you about?

As well as all the usual concerns people contact Samaritans about, there have been new issues specifically related to the pandemic and lockdown. I’ve heard from people who have been worried about themselves or their loved ones catching the virus, particularly those who work on the frontline. There are also those who have already lost loved ones to it and have had to go through the grieving process during lockdown.

I’ve also heard from people who are finding relationships strained by the sheer amount of time they are spending together, as well as others who have felt an increased sense of isolation and loneliness and are missing friends and family. There’s been a negative impact on lots of people’s mental health, and increased feelings of depression and anxiety.

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You’re doing an incredible thing, how do you make sure you look after your own mental health and wellbeing?

Looking after each other as fellow volunteers is vital. We always work with another volunteer and support each other during the shift. There is a leader who is there throughout the shift if needed, but who we also debrief to at the end of each shift. There’s always someone available to talk to if something is troubling you, even after your shift has finished.

As a branch, we have a group chat to enable us to socialise with each other while we are in lockdown and can’t meet up, and we’ve also had weekly online quizzes. On a more personal level, I run! For me, it’s my therapy and is vital for my mental health.

Do you have any advice for those who want to talk, but haven’t yet taken that step?

I would urge anyone who feels that they need to talk, to do just that. Talk to someone who will listen without judging. This may be a friend or family member, but if there is no one else, or you’d prefer to talk to someone anonymously and in confidence, then please do contact Samaritans via phone or email. Talking problems through doesn’t make them go away, but it does usually make them feel more manageable. It’s the old adage of a problem shared…

What can someone expect from calling Samaritans?

Anyone contacting Samaritans can expect to be listened to by a trained volunteer. The volunteer will not be shocked by what you have to say and will listen without judgement. You will have complete control over what you choose to share with the volunteer without pressure to reveal more than you feel comfortable with.

The volunteer will never tell you what to do, but hopefully after being given time and space to explore your thoughts and feelings, you will come up with some solutions to the issues and/or problems you face.

You can call the Samaritans for free on 116 123. They are available 24/7, 365 days a year. If you’re unable to call during this time, for whatever reason, you can also email them at

If you’re worried about your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak, lockdown and the easing of restrictions, Samaritans have gathered some resources that may help, including practical ways to help yourself cope and what to do if you’re worried about someone else.

While lockdown has left many of us feeling unsure and worried, there is support available. There has been a huge move to online therapy during this time, so you can get the help you need, wherever you are.

Visit Counselling Directory to connect with over 14,000 online therapists.

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