For many, Christmas is a time for family and celebrations, but for some the season can be a dark and lonely time – a plight the Samaritans charity is determined to ease.
“No-one Needs to Feel Alone” is the Christmas campaign message, boosted by the charity’s new ambassador, former Emmerdale star Roxanne Pallett.
Roxanne joined volunteers at the Samaritans’ Nelson office to explain, in a heartfelt and candid way, why she is backing the campaign.
The 32 year-old star of stage and screen lost her best friend after she took her own life in December 2009.
“The Samaritans are there every single day for people who are struggling, feeling lonely and isolated.
“Christmas and Yew Year are times when people’s problems can be magnified – they can feel alone when everyone else is celebrating.
The Samaritans are there every single day for people who are struggling, feeling lonely and isolated.Roxanne Pallett, actress and Samaritans ambassador
“That’s why the Samaritans have launched this campaign now. I think it is vital to everyone out there who is struggling when perhaps other people are out partying.”
Roxanne warned that depression and stress are hidden illnesses, a fact that can prevent friends and loved ones from helping those near to them.
The actress also spoke candidly about the dangers of social media, so prevalent in all our lives today, which can hinder young people as much as help them.
Social media, perhaps today’s “opium of the masses”, has become a vehicle for celebrities and ordinary people to parade their lives, but Roxanne believes the Samaritans are there for when it all inevitably becomes too much.
“These days people present this front, especially on social media, where they paint on a smile,” she said.
“People only show an edited version of their life. I absolutely think that social media has become as much of a hindrance as a help because people are hiding behind it.
“The form of friendship on there is a false sense of popularity. People say they have so many friends or followers, but how many of them would come round to see if you were alright.
“It’s easy to say you’re friends from behind a computer screen, but with the Samaritans there’s a voice and a person you can actually speak to.
“They don’t judge, they listen, and that’s so important. A lot of people just need someone to speak to.”
And there are a lot of people. Too many. In East Lancashire alone, the Samaritans took 36,000 calls last year.
There are 201 branches across the UK with 21,000 volunteers handling 5.3 million calls for help in a year.
Roxanne also called on her celebrity friends to do their bit to help.
She added: “Nowadays, so many people focus on themselves and miss what’s going on around them.
“I think those of us in the public eye have a duty to use our voice. We all take too many vacuous selfies – let’s take time out to stop being so self-indulgent, and look to the left and right, and ask what can we do to help.
“There might be a person in your workplace or family struggling in silence. Usually, it’s the last person you expect.”
Roxanne highlighted the stigma around depression and suicide, as well as grief.
“Grief is a subject people are uncomfortable talking about, there’s a horrible stigma attached to it. Sometimes, when we lose someone close, we need to grieve. I have been there and needed someone to talk to.
“There needs to be more compassion, support and understanding. Let’s ask people if they are okay. Thanks goodness for the Samaritans.”
Today’s high pressure society means the need for the Samaritans has never been greater.
The human urge to help others is, thankfully, just as strong though.
East Lancashire listening volunteers Lynsey (33), Tony (54) and Josie (75) are proof that people of all ages can do their bit.
Tony, who has been with the charity for five years, said: “Knowing that you’re here for other people is what makes me do it.
“I’d been dealt a decent hand in life, and wanted to help those less fortunate.”
Josie explained how the training to be a listener was intensive, but had to be.
She said: “We listen to traumas of all kinds from people of all ages. It can be tough but I would recommend becoming a volunteer to anyone.”
Director Ian Hartley also urged others to get involved.
“We have 102 volunteers here, working a variety of roles including listening, administration, IT and publicity.
“We look for around six hours per fortnight. Our doors are open so the service we offer can also be face-to-face. We also now offer a text and email service.
“Our contacts are up slightly from last year, but more people can now access our service on a regular basis.
“We listen and explore whatever it is that person is going through. It really is a vital service.”
Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place to talk for anyone who is struggling to cope, whoever you are and whatever life has done to you.
Please call 116 123 (this number is FREE to call and won’t show up on your phone bill), email email@example.com, or visit www.samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch.