You never know who you are go­ing to get when you pick up the phone


Manchester Evening News - - NEWS - By REBECCA DAY [email protected]­i­tymir­ @Re­bec­ca­DayMEN

IN his role as a Sa­mar­i­tan, Matthew Charleston of­fers a lis­ten­ing ear to peo­ple in their dark­est hour.

It’s a ser­vice he wished he’d turned to when he was grow­ing up, as it could have helped him ‘re­cover quicker.’

His late teens and early 20s were punc­tu­ated with bouts of de­pres­sion, and two sui­cide at­tempts.

The first was at the age of 17, when he was do­ing a job that he hated, the sec­ond dur­ing an un­happy re­la­tion­ship in his mid-20s.

Per­sonal strug­gles, low mood, and then a strug­gle to get the right help it’s an all too fa­mil­iar story to too many Man­cu­ni­ans in re­cent years.

Matthew’s ac­count of his at­tempts to get help through men­tal health ser­vices is one of frus­tra­tion.

The 31-year-old, from Ather­ton, says his GP pre­scribed him an­tide­pres­sants and he tried cog­ni­tive be­havioural ther­apy (CBT).

The CBT ther­a­pist then re­ferred him to a psy­chol­o­gist.

He waited six months to see one, and on his first ses­sion was told he wasn’t a suit­able pa­tient.

“They told me there’s noth­ing else they can do for me and I should go to CBT as that was more ap­pro­pri­ate, even though that’s the ser­vice that had re­ferred me,” he said.

“I felt frus­tra­tion and anger that I had waited six months just to be re­ferred back to a ser­vice that I’d come from.”

Help came for Matthew in the form of a ‘very sup­port­ive friend,’ who he could talk to.

He con­tin­ued to take the med­i­ca­tion his doctor had pre­scribed.

And then, around the age of 26 and feel­ing more con­fi­dent, he de­cided to give vol­un­teer­ing a go.

It was while Matthew was stuck in traf­fic one day that he saw a re­cruit­ment ad­vert for the Sa­mar­i­tans on the bus in front.

He thought he might be good at it. Even when he was go­ing through rough patches him­self, he was of­ten a shoul­der to cry on for friends.

He was in­ter­viewed and then at­tended an as­sess­ment day, where he had to come up with sce­nar­ios for how he would han­dle dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions.

The train­ing in­volves three months in a class­room, then a fur­ther three months train­ing with a men­tor.

Af­ter that you’re on pro­ba­tion, tak­ing calls on your own but with an ex­pe­ri­enced vol­un­teer on stand-by.

“I was in a much bet­ter place (when I signed up)”, Matthew said.

“And I felt that I was strong enough to be able to vol­un­teer.

“I wouldn’t say I was fully there, but in a way I found that Sa­mar­i­tans helped me with that last bit of the jour­ney, go­ing through the train­ing and the friends that I’ve made here as well.”

Hav­ing made it through the process, Matthew has been vol­un­teer­ing, at the Sa­mar­i­tans branch on Ox­ford Street ever since.

An­swer­ing his first call was ‘nerver­ack­ing.’ “You never know what you are go­ing to get when you pick up the phone,” he said.

“It could be some­one in the process of tak­ing their own life. Or you could be pick­ing up the phone and it’s some­one that is lonely.

“They might not have seen or spo­ken to some­one that day and they just need to hear some­body’s voice.

The most im­por­tant skill, he says, is ‘em­pa­thy.’ “You have to be a peo­ple-per­son, some of the call­ers can be chal­leng­ing at times, you’ve got to be able to han­dle that.

“But also you’ve got to have the open­ness and hon­esty to speak to your fel­low vol­un­teers when you are strug­gling. Oth­er­wise you can take things away with you.”

Sa­mar­i­tans de­brief af­ter ev­ery shift so they can talk to a vol­un­teer sup­port co­or­di­na­tor, nick­named the ‘Sa­mar­i­tan’s Sa­mar­i­tan.’ It means they don’t go home with stress­ful calls weigh­ing on their minds. They’ve got such a strict con­fi­den­tial­ity pol­icy that they can’t speak to any­one out­side of work about the cir­cum­stances of a call, so speak­ing to col­leagues is hugely help­ful. Be­fore he be­came a Sa­mar­i­tan, Matthew, who now lives in Sal­ford with his York­shire terrier Al­fie, thought he was a good lis­tener. But Sa­mar­i­tans train­ing took that skill to a new level.

Calls can be as short as five min­utes or as long as five hours. Hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced men­tal health prob­lems makes his job easier, Matthew thinks. He knows what it’s like to be in the call­ers’ shoes. But there are plenty of calls from peo­ple in sit­u­a­tions he’s never been in – is­sues with their chil­dren, mar­i­tal prob­lems, or older peo­ple with health is­sues. One is­sue is prank calls – mainly of a sex­ual nature. Bizarrely peo­ple some­times mis­take him for a woman on the phone, and so he gets some very ‘odd com­ments,’ he said. An­other is threats or abuse. Some­times peo­ple are drunk or on drugs when they phone up.

In his day job, Matthew works as a debt col­lec­tor.

He re­laxes by watch­ing sci­ence fic­tion shows like Star Trek – a nice es­cape from the real world. An­other pas­sion is pot­tery, the med­i­ta­tive process helps him switch off from the stresses of daily life.


Matthew Charleston is a Sa­mar­i­tans vol­un­teer VIN­CENT COLE

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