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 religious.
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 around 21,200 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.
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 12 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. 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.
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