Written by our wonderful Helpline volunteer, Xiadi
I never realized how uncomfortable mental health conversations were for me until an eighth-grade holiday concert, when a friend pulled me aside to make a personal confession of struggle with depression and self-harm. My unpreparedness and unease at the forefront of my mind, and it dawned on me that I had neither the knowledge nor the skills to offer the support that I wanted to. All I had was a desperate desire to help, and I found myself frustrated with my quiet and uncertain reaction.
A few months later, this conversation still on my mind, I attended the annual Samaritans 5K as a volunteer. I immediately felt welcomed into the community; the people were warm and energetic, and the entire atmosphere was one of positivity. As much as I enjoyed the event, however, I realized that I hadn’t gained what I had sought in the first place. Although suicide and mental illness became slightly less intimidating and conversation became slightly less uncomfortable, I remained unprepared to talk to someone struggling with mental illness. I still wasn’t able to offer support to others like I wished I could.
Signing up as a befriender for the Samaritans crisis line was immensely intimidating. Once I reached fifteen, the minimum age to work on the crisis line, I found many excuses to push back my participation: I was too busy, I wasn’t ready, I was already involved in the community. I couldn’t imagine myself sitting in a phone room, listening to and engaging with callers; the truth was that I was terrified. I imagined myself failing to do what I wanted so badly to do, and I had to repeatedly remind myself that my discomfort was exactly why I was tackling this. I built up my courage incrementally, and soon learned that despite all my doubts, I was in the right place.
I learned to admire the tone of someone’s voice over vocabulary, and discovered the power of simple compassion and concern. From listening to callers, I also learned how to listen to myself and how to practice self-care in moments when I need it. Talking to callers on the Helpline has helped me much more than I could have ever imagined. Through calls, I have seen situations worse than I could have ever imagined, but I have also learned how strong and resilient the human spirit is. Some calls have described deeply painful and horrific experiences, and others have illuminated my heart with hope and faith. Often, the presence of someone over the phone is enough, and it is extremely empowering and humbling that I can be that person for some.
I used to think back to that encounter with my friend and run through multiple possible responses which might have been better than my silence. In a way, I am grateful for that overwhelming discomfort, because it led me to where I am now: since starting college, I have joined a peer counseling group on campus, and further practicing befriending and growing more confident in myself. I have volunteered as a camp counselor for Camp Kesem and found myself relying on previous training to talk to campers about disputes and worries. Moreover, I have felt a huge difference not only in the way I converse with friends, professors, and strangers, but in the way which I converse with myself in times of anxiety and stress. Learning to listen to others has taught me, unexpectedly, ways to self-regulate and listen to myself, skills which I previously overlooked. Samaritans has brought me such a long way, and it brings me great joy to know that I always feel I have a home in the phone room at 33 West Street, no matter the time of day.
We are so grateful to Xiadi for her dedication and service to people in need. If you’re interested in volunteering at Samaritans, visit our Volunteering page to learn more and complete the Volunteer Inquiry Form.