The Samaritans in Derry says it could do with dozens more volunteers to help deal with the thousands of calls for help pouring in to the service.
At present the Samaritans have more than 100 volunteers in Derry, with 15 new recruits recently added to the team.
However at a presentation to Derry City & Strabane District Council’s Health and Community Committee, Lindsay Johnston, Director of Derry Samaritans, said more volunteers are needed because of an increased demand for the organisation’s services.
“We do expect an increase because of the current situation in Derry, but also across the UK, and because we have now introduced our freephone number. That is why it is so crucial for us to keep volunteer numbers up and get people to join.”
She added that it could be difficult to retain volunteers for a variety of reasons.
“Ideally we could take on another 30 to 40 volunteers.”
Earlier Ms Johnston told the committee that the Derry Samaritans have received almost 27,000 calls in the past year.
Explaining the work undertaken locally, Ms Johnston said: “We don’t offer any professional counselling. We are a listening ear service and we offer emotional support when people find things tough. For a lot of people who are struggling with whatever is going on in their life, having that human contact is very important. The majority of people are not suicidal but are struggling with different aspects of life - financial, relationship issues, in young people it could be bullying, lots of different eating disorders.
“There is not a typical person who contacts Samaritans. There’s no typical problem people talk to us about.”
She said that this ranged from people who wanted someone to talk to through to people contemplating suicide.
The age range goes from children to elderly and the Derry Samaritans also did a lot of outreach work, including at Magilligan Prison and at local schools.
Deputy Director of Derry Samaritans Tom Bradley said that while the core of the service remained calls, the Derry branch had been contacted by e-mail 2,800 times last year and 1,600 times via text message.
Sinn Fein Councillor Karina Carlin led tributes to the good work being undertaken by the volunteers and asked about support for volunteers. She also asked about contacts via Facebook and Twitter.
Ms, Johnston replied that individual branches have been advised not to have their own Facebook page, but were considering real-time face-timing and expanding text message service in the future.
The committee was told that a volunteers support team was in place and that when on duty a volunteer will always be on with at least one other person, with a leader in charge.
SDLP Councillor Shauna Cusack, Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly and DUP Councillor Hilary McClintock also praised the work of the Samaritans. Colr. McClintock said: “It is good to be reminded every so often of the work of the Samaritans.”
Colr. Donnelly said he has always had admiration for the work the Samaritans do and said their volunteers had a special skill for listening.“For somebody to give up their spare time in this way has to be commended,” he said.