- For the ethnic group of this name, see Samaritan.
Samaritans (formerly The Samaritans) is a British-based registered charity aimed at providing emotional support to anyone in distress or at risk of suicide. The name comes from the Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan, though the organisation is not a religious one.
Samaritans was founded in 1953 by Chad Varah, a vicar whose pastoral work had led him to understand that there was a need for this service. At the time there were an average of three suicides a day in London. The movement grew rapidly: within ten years there were 40 branches and there are now over 200 across the United Kingdom and Ireland. Samaritans offers support through approximately 18,000 trained volunteers and is entirely dependent on voluntary support.
The name was not originally chosen by Chad Varah: it was part of a headline to an article in the Daily Mirror newspaper about Varah's work. Some in the organisation find the name unhelpful, as it suggests a Christian basis to the work, whereas in fact Samaritans stresses that it is completely non-religious. However, given the high profile and public awareness of Samaritans in the UK, it is extremely unlikely that the name will change.
In 2004 Samaritans announced that volunteer numbers had reached a thirty-year low, and launched a campaign to recruit more young people (specifically targeted at ages 18-24) to become volunteers. The campaign was fronted by Phil Selway, drummer with the band Radiohead, himself a Samaritans volunteer.
The core of Samaritans work is a telephone helpline, operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In addition, the organisation offers a drop-in service, undertakes outreach at festivals and other outdoor events, trains prisoners as "Listeners" to provide support within prisons, and undertakes research into suicide and emotional health issues.
Since 1994, Samaritans has also offered confidential email support. Initially operating from one branch, the service is now provided by the majority of branches and co-ordinated from the organisation's general office. It receives tens of thousands of messages each year, and aims to answer each one within 24 hours.
Samaritans stresses that the service it provides is not counselling, and it will not give advice. Rather, it provides a listening ear and an opportunity to talk through problems. The organisation's vision is for a society where fewer people die by suicide because people are able to share feelings of emotional distress openly without fear of being judged. Samaritans believes that offering people the opportunity to be listened to in confidence, and accepted without prejudice, can alleviate despair and suicidal feelings. It is the aim of Samaritans to make emotional health a mainstream issue.
Through its email service, Samaritans work has extended well beyond the UK and Ireland, as messages are received from all around the world.
Samaritans was previously part of Befrienders International, an organisation set up to coordinate similar activities internationally. However, this collapsed in 2002, and Samaritans is now leading efforts to find an appropriate replacement.
- Samaritans home page (http://www.samaritans.org.uk/)
- History of the Samaritans (http://www.samaritans.org/know/about_history_popup.shtm)
- Samaritans email support (mailto:[email protected])