The Samaritans answered nearly 640,000 calls this year

The suicide prevention charity said the majority of calls come in the "loneliest hours," between 6pm and 6am

The Samaritans answered nearly 640,000 calls this year

Deirdre Toner, Executive Director Ireland, Samaritans, Helen McEntee TD, Minister for Mental Health and Older People and Professor Siobhan O'Neill, University of Ulster. Image: Orla Murray

Almost 640,000 people contacted the Samaritans looking for help over the past 12 months.

The suicide prevention charity’s annual report has shown that the majority of calls come in the “loneliest hours” - with 63% of calls coming in the evenings between 6pm and 6am.

The charity’s executive director, Deirdre Toner said the late night nature of many of the calls highlights the importance of ensuring the service is available 24/7.

“The fact that most calls for help are received outside of office hours shows that Samaritans provides a vital support for people in distress when other services and sources of support may not be available,” she said.

The charity said people who are struggling with depression or other issues often feel isolated or alone with no-one to turn to for help.

With over 450 people committing suicide in Ireland each year charities like the Samaritans provide a space for people who feel they have nowhere else to go.

Ms Toner said the Christmas period is especially tough for many people:

“Christmas is our busiest time of the year and I suppose the key is that people feel lonely and isolated,” she said.

“There are broader issues as well, where there is lack of money, people are in debt, there is poverty, housing all of these things so Christmas highlights a lot of these issues.”

The charity answered 639,652 calls for help this year - with the vast majority coming in over the phone.

However, a large number of people are now also contacting the charity through text and email as well as through face-to-face visits.

The Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Helen McEntee said the charity provides “enormous value” to people who are looking for “safe space” and the support of someone who will listen.

“I want to acknowledge the tremendous work being delivered by volunteers,” she said. “As we approach the Christmas holidays, I know Samaritans’ volunteers are scheduling round-the-clock shifts to make sure they are available to those who need emotional support.” 

“That hundreds of people throughout the country give so freely of their time to such an important cause is truly admirable.”

According to the report, volunteers for the charity provided 74,372 hours of listening over the past 12 months in branches across the country.

Demand for service has increased dramatically since the organisation launched a new free to call number in 2014.

Ms Toner said the charity is calling on the government to make suicide prevention a priority - with action required across the country to ensure people can access crisis support 24-hours a day.

“Our vision is to reduce suicide and we work to target groups and communities who are at increased risk,” she said. “Suicide is a complex issue and one which requires action for all sectors of society.”

The Samaritans 24-hour-helpline is available on 116 123 with details on your closest branch available at www.samaritans.ie.