I don’t know about the rest of you, but at the age of 18, I had little clarity about what I wanted to do on the weekend – let alone what I wanted to dedicate my life to. That’s why when you have the chance to sit down with Julia Conner, you just know that you are speaking with an incredibly special soul. With her gentle smile and warm, soft-spoken voice, you feel comfortable and safe speaking with her. And at the same time, you feel inspired and awestruck by her clarity of purpose, her deep convictions, and her generosity of spirit. Self-professed to have the superpower of connecting with people through her baking, Julia loves to make sweets for people as a way to extend love to them. She is a bookworm who taught herself to read at 3 years old and now loves to track and rate all of the books that she reads. At only 18 years old, she is that inspiring combination of extremely intelligent and deeply empathetic. And the incredible part is, she uses that unique skill set to support others who are facing deep sadness or mental health challenges. Julia Conner is a Samaritans Helpline volunteer.
“When I was 15, I was trying to think of a place where I could volunteer my time. I had some friends who were struggling with mental health, and I knew that suicide is an epidemic. I thought it would be a great way to help people in this way.”
Julia began her journey with Samaritans before the pandemic where she would travel an hour both ways to the office to answer anywhere from 8 to 15 calls during her three-hour shifts each week. Julia describes her phone conversations as an interesting mix of both wonderful and incredibly difficult.
“I think the best part is knowing that I’ve made a difference for the people I’ve talked to. We don’t fix everything. We don’t always make them feel better. But we give them someone to talk to. And that helps. Knowing that I’ve done that for someone is a great feeling….But also everyone who contacts us is going through a really rough time. Sometimes they just kind of take it out on us. That can be really hard to go through.…I take a step back and take a quick break, and I remind myself that it’s not my fault. I’ve done the best I can.”
Julia carries the people with whom she has spoken in her heart for years after her conversations with them. When asked about her most memorable conversation, Julia shares about a text conversation she had with a person who was at “imminent risk”. She says it was one of the hardest conversations she ever had.
“It was intense because that was the highest level of risk. I felt like I had really connected with that person and what they were talking about affected me very deeply.”
Even having faced hard conversations, Julia continues to volunteer three years later. She is now a Hey Sam volunteer where she works weekly four-hour shifts to answer text messages coming in on the new Samaritans text line exclusively for young people.
“I think it’s really great that we have this service because I think it can be daunting for young people to reach out. I think it will be good for young people like me to know that there is this service that is specifically for them and that someone around their age will be on the other end. I hope it will make people feel more comfortable to reach out.”
When asked what she thinks about suicide and mental health after working so closely to these issues for the past few years, Julia admits that she feels “worry and concern”.
“There are so many people that struggle with it, especially since Covid. There are a lot of improvements that can be made in the mental health system in this country. It’s hard for everyone to get the help that they need. That’s why we need to keep trying to do what we can to help at Samaritans.”
Julia will pause her volunteer career with Samaritans at the end of this summer when she leaves for college. She plans to attend Connecticut College and major in psychology in order to pursue her goal of
becoming a marriage and family therapist. But she is not leaving without making sure that this important work continues. Julia recently completed her training to become a mentor to other volunteers.
“I remember how amazing my mentors were and how much they helped me when I was learning about working at Samaritans. I would like to be that for other people and help train the new volunteers so that we can have as many people as possible. I hope that I can help people feel more comfortable and confident in their work.”
Julia shares that she feels immense gratitude for having been able to work with Samaritans and that she feels she has grown personally as a result.
“Over the past few years, I’ve become a lot more comfortable talking with people I don’t know. I’m more confident. I try to reach out to people to see how they are doing. I feel more comfortable being out in the world now. It’s been an honor to do this work and to be able to help people.”
No, the honor is ours, Julia. It is a privilege and joy to have the opportunity to work with incredible volunteers like you. Thank you for your service.