With Christmas just days away, we gear up for the happy, festive, family-oriented holiday. But, feelings of isolation and loneliness trigger depress and suicidal thoughts, says Executive Director, Denise Panichas, of the Rhode Island Samaritans. “Research shows us that isolation has a huge impact on people’s overall health and well-being.”.
“Radio stations across Rhode Island will run our Public Service Announcement during the holiday season, getting the word out about The Samaritans. Social media has also become a remarkable effective tool for raising awareness of our website for 24/7 information and referrals. Interestingly, people visit from not only Rhode Island crisis/listening hotline. Conversations with trained volunteers are free, confidential and, most importantly, anonymous
Looking for Volunteers…
Panichas says it is difficult to determine if calls spike during Christmas and New Years, she has seen an increase in the number of third-party calls, people calling on behalf of their loved ones and friends. “We’re seeing an increase to our website with visitors rising more than 6,500 visitors in 2003 to 144,000 in 2017, she says. Panichas noted that due to the lack of volunteers, the lines are not covered 24/7 and she is hoping this story is a chance to ask the public think about joining their team.
“We recruit volunteers through Rhode Island’s colleges and universities (coming mostly from Brown University), through the volunteer recruitment sites and on social media. In 2001, student volunteers were majoring in psychology. Today they are majoring in neuropsychology, neurobiology, or pre-med students and residents from Rhode Island hospital, says Panichas.
“Older adult volunteers usually are retirees with professional life experiences that includes listening skills and have experience following protocols and rules. We find them through traditional means such as newspaper as well as social media. Newspaper coverage of our activities also generates interest. Because college students go home for holidays and summer, we are always in need of adult volunteers,” adds Panichas.
According to Panichas, The Samaritan’s communication-based 21-hour training program teaches volunteers to effectively listen to people who are in crisis, without expressing personal judgments or opinions. The listening techniques called “befriending,” calls for 90 percent listening and 10 percent talking.
Interestingly, The Samaritan’s has an entire section of our website dedicated to caregivers. “When loved ones who are not well call to speak with a volunteer, it can give the caregiver a break from listening, a break from the responsibility and possibly a few brief moments of calm to do something for themselves like take a shower, go for walk or just have a cup of coffee,” notes Panichas. “Caregivers often call our listening line because they too, like the hopeless and alone, don’t want to be a burden to family and friends and seem like they are complaining,” she adds.
Paniches says that in addition to crisis/listening hotline, The Samaritans of Rhode Island offers Safe Place,the state’s oldest, continuously operating peer to peer group for adults suffering loss by suicide. “Ours, like any other support group however, never replaces professional medical and behavioral health care. We encourage everyone to talk to their primary care doctor about the stress they are experiencing,” she says.
We’re Here to Listen
The Samaritans of Rhode Island can be the gateway to care or a “compassionate nonjudgmental voice on the other end of the line,” Panichas notes. “It doesn’t matter what your problem is, be it depression, suicidal thoughts, or being lonely or just needing to talk, our volunteers are there to listen, she says.
For persons interested in more information about suicide emergencies, The Samaritans website,, has an emergency checklist as well as information by city and town in Rhode Island.
Emergency? Call 911. Need to Talk? Call a volunteer at The Samaritans at 401.272.4044.