Ever wondered how you would cope with someone in crisis? What would you say to an upset, distressed caller on the phone?
The Mirror’s HeadStrong: Better Mental Health For All Campaign has been focusing all week on the different generations who have seen their mental health affected by the pandemic.
From children and parents to elderly, shielders, men and NHS frontline workers, everyone’s been susceptible to the current mental health crisis after 20 months of Covid-19 and lockdowns.
But as anxiety, depression and OCD rates all escalate, Samaritans are working round the clock to be that friendly ear we all might need in times of stress and when you need a space to talk.
Have you struggled with your mental health in lockdown? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to tell your story
Star volunteer Azhar
And like every support group across the country, it was vital that work continued during the pandemic.
But what’s it like for those offering emotional support?
Here, star volunteer Azhar* gives us an insight into one of his typical – or atypical – Sunday night on the phone lines, in the height of the pandemic by sharing his shift diary:
Azhar finds his volunteer role rewarding
7pm: I arrive at the branch to begin my shift. After calling in with our shift leader to see if there are any follow up calls required, my first call is with a prisoner who is feeling extremely isolated.
We’ve seen a lot of calls to Samaritans from prisoners during lockdown: He hasn’t left his cell all day, or had a chance to see his family. The biggest challenge is the disruption to his routine.
Although I can’t solve his problems, I can be someone he can offload to and who will listen to him.
Access the Mirror’s mental health resource hub
7:30pm: My second call is from somebody who is shielding and feeling anxious about Covid. She is annoyed that the actions of other people, who break lockdown rules, could be putting her and her loved ones at risk.
8:00pm: An NHS worker calls next. She is emotionally and physically drained after a particularly demanding shift. She lives alone and couldn’t debrief with anyone about her day, so she called us to talk to someone for support.
8:45pm: I step away from the desk to take a break. I speak to my colleagues about the calls, which is especially important when I take a particularly difficult call. I have a good rapport with them, as we have a fixed shift pattern and work together regularly.
The Daily Mirror is launching our new campaign HeadStrong: Better Mental Health For All.
We’re calling for:
- Early Access Mental Health Hubs for under 25s to be rolled out across the country, with at least one for each trust.
- Waiting times to be cut so people actually start treatment with a professional within four weeks
- The Govt to fill in the gaps in care – an end of red tape which means many don’t fit the set criteria to get help plus 8,500 more mental health staff
- Compulsory Mental Health education lessons in schools, plus paid counsellors in schools and care homes
Want to help? Write to your MP and ask them to support the current Early Day Motion 459 to debate mental health and the pandemic in parliament.
9:15pm: An elderly man who lives by himself calls me. Lockdown restrictions have left him feeling isolated from the outside world. Before the pandemic, he would meet his family regularly, but that has now stopped. He hasn’t seen or spoken to anyone in weeks and is struggling with having nothing to do.
Before lockdown, he would have something planned for every day. Many of our callers during lockdown are not necessarily suicidal, or crying out for help, but just need human interaction.
10:00pm: I finish my final call. It’s a busy shift.. We debrief with our shift leader and she reminds us that if anything lingers, we can have follow up chats every day for as long as we need.
Although the stories we hear are difficult to listen to, my work for Samaritans is fulfilling and it is valuable to me to help people who need it.
Azhar* also manned our Daily Mirror HeadStrong Live Samaritans Advice Clinic. Watch here facebook.com/dailymirror/videos
* Samaritans volunteers go by first names only
How to get help: If you are struggling or you are worried about a loved one, you can call Samaritans free at any time, from any phone, on 116 123 or email email@example.com. For more advice visit nhs.uk/mental-health or www.mind.org.uk/information-support/coronavirus
If you are interested in being a Samaritans volunteer and support people who need help, visit https://www.samaritans.org/support-us/volunteer/