Samaritans is a suicide prevention charity, specialising in providing emotional support through active listening for those finding it difficult to cope. The Helpline was established in 1953 in the UK and Ireland, has 201 branches, 20,000 volunteers, is available to callers 24/7, and is completely free.
The Caller Outcomes Research study was carried out with the help of 104 Samaritans volunteers from 24 branches, who helped recruit callers to take part in the study. In total, 471 callers took part by answering some questions at the end of the call. Of these callers, 123 also completed a follow-up survey one week later, and 25 took part in an in-depth interview.
Key findings: How does calling Samaritans help people?
• For all callers, on average, there was a significant reduction in levels of distress from the start to end of a call, and from the start of a call to one week later.*
• Most callers felt their call helped them to manage their own level of distress and suicidal thoughts or feelings.
• A week after calling Samaritans, seven out of ten callers said they were feeling better, and that their call had contributed to this.
• Most callers said calling Samaritans helped them feel listened to and understood. Calling helped them see that they had options and they felt more able to make choices. It also gave people more hope for the future and made them feel like they could cope with everyday life. Some said it made them feel calmer and less lonely.
• Almost all callers said they had the volunteer’s undivided attention and were treated with respect, dignity, care and compassion. They were confident conversations would remain confidential and felt able to talk openly to the volunteers about their feelings.
*Findings are based on the average of all callers’ self-reported level out of 10 during the call and one-week later.
Key findings: What sets Samaritans’ helpline apart from other services?
• The majority of those who call Samaritans have also turned to other sources for support, such as their GP, mental health services or other charities. So, for most callers, Samaritans is one of several services they use to help them cope. But for more than one in ten callers, Samaritans is their only source of support.
• Callers said the immediate availability of Samaritans’ service sets it apart from other services. The helpline gives them the chance to talk to someone straight away when they need it, even in the middle of the night. There are no waiting lists and they don’t have to wait to be called back. Callers also appreciate that there is no set time limit, so they can take the time they need to talk things through and they know they can call again if they need to.
• Most callers found Samaritans’ approach to active listening helpful, especially the way Samaritans volunteers encourage callers to talk by asking open questions, without judging them or telling them what to do. This allows the caller to reflect and move forward with their own decisions and solutions.
A small selection of quotes from callers who took part in the research
“I’m looking for that lifeline […] the string at the end of the balloon, something to keep me getting through the next hour […] the person, they may be talking to me, I’m listening to their voice, I’m remembering that I’m still alive, so I’m really trying to get back in my body […] and the person helps me do that.”
“The whole tone of the voice and the way they relate to a caller – there’s a kind of compassion and sensitivity to how they treat you, and how they speak to you.”
“With Samaritans, they make you feel like just at that moment, you’re the most important thing they’re dealing with.”
Further information about the research
The full report and Samaritans infographics (Reference: Markham, T., Forshaw, A. and Sutcliffe, R. (2020). Samaritans Caller Outcomes Study. Birmingham: MEL Research Ltd) containing further detail about the research can be found on Samaritans website by following these links:
We look forward to sharing further updates about how this research has informed helpline service improvements in the coming weeks.
If you have a similar project that you wish to discuss with us, please contact Anne Forshaw, Research Director, on 0121 604 4664 or via email@example.com