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

YOURS (UK) - - Inside - By Katharine Woot­ton

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.”


Joyce has been a vol­un­teer at her lo­cal branch of the Sa­mar­i­tans for 24 years

Joyce suf­fered se­vere de­pres­sion after los­ing both her par­ents

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