The Samaritans: ‘I’m proud to listen’
At the most desperate time of her life, Joyce Gibbs turned to the Samaritans. Now she’s volunteering to help others for the charity she says saved her life
Hello Samaritans, how can I help you?” This is the phrase Joyce Gibbs recites every time she picks up the phone on a volunteering shift with the Samaritans. It’s the same phrase that gave her comfort when she called the Samaritans at a time when, overwhelmed by depression, she was in desperate need of a listening ear herself.
Joyce, now 72, had always been close to her mum and dad so when they both fell ill with cancer around the same time, she cared for them devotedly. However, when they passed away within two years of each other, her grief quickly spiralled into something very dark. “I got myself into this hole and I felt I had no energy at all to get out,” says Joyce.
Troubled by black moods and even thoughts of suicide, she felt she had nowhere to turn.
“As much as I loved my husband
and son to bits I genuinely believed they would be much better without me as I was making their lives as miserable as mine. I did talk to them, but I felt they could only do so much for me.”
At her lowest point, after she had attempted suicide, Joyce’s husband handed her the phone number for the Samaritans. “He said to me, ‘I know I can’t do anything if you really want to take your life, but please ring this number if you get to that stage’.”
On a day when she felt so overwhelmed that she could no longer go on, Joyce plucked up the courage to dial the number her husband had given her. “I called the number and as soon as someone answered and said hello, I burst into tears. But the lady at the other end of the phone just gently said to me, ‘It’s okay to cry here’ and let me calm down in my own time. Eventually I told her about my depression and that I’d felt suicidal. She asked me a few gentle questions, but not once did she say ‘You should be doing this’ or ‘Why are you doing this to your family?’. She put no guilt on me and just gave me the freedom to speak.
“That call lasted two-and-a-half hours and even though it might have been the end of her shift, she never gave any indication she wanted to go anywhere and made me feel that she was there just for me. At the end of the call she also spoke to my husband to tell him the Samaritans were there for him, too, as well as offering me a follow-up call in a couple of days.
“I felt I’d got past a crisis point after that call with the Samaritans and apart from the follow-up call I never felt I needed to ring them again, although it was just a comfort to know they were there if I ever felt I wanted to.”
About five years later, Joyce saw an advert in the paper looking for volunteer Samaritans at her local branch and knew she had to help. “I said to my husband if I could help just one person like that Samaritan helped me, I’d be happy. So I went ahead and applied.”
Following an intensive training programme, within a few weeks Joyce was on the phone helping people who were in similar situations to the one she had once been in. “The most important quality of a Samaritan I’ve learned is to be a good listener and our amazing training taught us that
– in fact, I think everyone should do Samaritans training as it helps in all aspects of life.
“Although we sometimes signpost people to other organisations who can help our callers, Samaritans will never give advice. When I was poorly, everyone else kept telling me what I should do, but the Samaritans didn’t do that, they just gave me space and listened.
“I’ve now been a volunteer Samaritan for 24 years and it has become a big part of my life.”
As well as volunteering on the phones, Joyce is as a leader for her Herts and Essex Samaritans branch, which means she acts as a sounding board for other volunteers to debrief before they go home. Her husband has become Chairman of the Friends of the Samaritans and has raised £170,000 for the charity through fundraising over the years.
“With every call, I get a huge sense of putting back the help I’ve had and I find it such an honour when people ring to tell you what’s going on in their lives and you can help them.”
THE SAMARITANS RESPONDED TO 5.4 MILLION CONTACTS LAST YEAR
Joyce has been a volunteer at her local branch of the Samaritans for 24 years
Joyce suffered severe depression after losing both her parents