A listening ear can go a long way. This belief in the value of listening is what brings Sally to a particular landline for a few hours each week.
The Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) is the only suicide prevention centre in Singapore that offers a 24-hour hotline and Sally (not her real name) has been lending that much-needed ear to its callers as a SOS hotline volunteer since 2013.
Tending to these calls is more than just hearing out the difficulties that people speak of. “I feel there is a real need for such a service,” Sally says. “For callers to make the call to SOS, there must be something dire they are going through or they may be concerned about someone they know and love,” she points out.
Sharing her time with others in need does not take much juggling of schedules. The flexibility of volunteering with SOS and some advance planning on her part allows Sally, a homemaker, to get on the hotline about three to four hours once or twice a week. She also strongly encourages others to step forth and volunteer, too.
To those who might hesitate at any potential pressure faced by the Samaritans during shifts, Sally assures that the training and support provided by SOS keeps the volunteers in stead. Volunteers look out and count on each other for mutual support too, with senior volunteers looking out for them.
“Doing this totally alone would be very tough on the individual,” admits Sally but she continues, “The training offered by SOS is very comprehensive and professional. It helps us prepare for our role, teaches us self-care and how not to take the emotions home.”
The callers too have impacted Sally in unwitting ways as she witnesses their inner strength and resilience, even if they cannot see it for themselves.
“There was once I was reprimanded by a caller,” recounts Sally of an episode when she had asked as part of the protocol whether the caller had any suicidal thoughts. “It was around the Chinese New Year period and the caller was not too pleased.” Yet Sally realised that the scolding itself was a positive indication of the caller’s ability to engage and cope.
Through the lives of others, Sally has also gained insight into her own and become less judgmental. “There is a lot of self-growth volunteering with SOS,” Sally surmises. “I appreciate and value life more. It makes me realise even more that we all go through different stages in life.”
The SOS is a social service agency funded by NCSS.