‘Samaritans… can I help you?’ Now you can text the helpline, but the problems remain the same

Chad Varah

Chad Varah (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The story of the Samaritans is truly amazing.  One man’s vision and inspiration that has lasted for 60 years.  I wonder how many lives have been saved, how many lives have been changed.  We’ll probably never know.



Marquez got it wrong.
It’s a thousand years of solitude
compressed into the crushing darkness of my empty days.

I hear the whispering voices,
tittle-tattling, chitter-chattering platitudes
impressed in the stubbled corn-maze of my head.

I fear the torture-weight
of apathy, lethargy, insecurity, wanabee ineptitude.
Depressed, alone in bed but for the bottle and the angst.

I dare, I plunge, I pick up the phone.
‘Samaritans, can I help?’  A caring voice.  Relief.  Gratitude
expressed – a million thanks for listening, judgment free.

I had found the strength to call,
to set my foot upon the path to plenitude.
Repressed no more I seek the candle-light of hope on reason’s shore.



2nd November 2013 – headline from the Independent

Notes:  “’Samaritans… can I help you?’ Now you can text the helpline, but the problems remain the same.” It started with one man and one phone. After years of listening to parishioners with problems, Chad Varah, an Anglican priest, realised there was a need to cast a safety net beyond the walls of his church and religion. He installed an old Bakelite telephone in the crypt of St Stephen Walbrook in central London. Sixty years ago this weekend, it rang for the first time.  Today, Samaritans, the world’s first helpline, has hundreds of phones manned by 20,000 volunteers in 200 branches. They ring, on average, once every six seconds. Once a minute, somebody calls because they are in great distress; many consider ending their lives.  But Samaritans is changing the way it listens. Text messages now form one in 10 of the five million “contacts” it receives each year. Almost half those who text have suicidal feelings, compared with less than a quarter of all those who make contact by any means. Three thousand texts last year were recorded as “suicide in progress”.  Stephen Hodell is chair of Samaritans and has been a volunteer for 40 years. “It astonishes me that there is so much demand for texts and that it’s possible to support people in short messages, but it really does work,” he said. “It’s clear that many of these people don’t want to speak but want to be heard.”

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