What I've learned about life from listening to people's problems

Credit: Jeremy Clack

Peter Ormerod is one of more than 20,000 people who volunteer with the Samaritans each year.

Here, on 24/7 Samaritans Awareness Day, he describes to ITV News what inspired him to join, how he dealt with his first call and how listening to others has changed his life.

How did you start?

It began with a drop-in evening and a powerful talk at my local branch.

Then there was a selection process before 10 weekly sessions of initial training.

These covered issues including suicide, confidentiality and empathy, with role-plays and discussions aplenty; I learnt almost as much from my fellow trainees as from the training team.

And at the heart of everything was the need to come back to the emotions which underlie our daily lives - and which can overwhelm us.

Still, no matter how thorough the training, there was a fair bit of apprehension as I took that first call.

How did you handle it?

My excellent mentor helped me through it, though, and it soon became clear to me just how supportive the charity is.

The Samaritans can be called at any hour of the day. Credit: PA

Just as Samaritans encourage callers to talk about their feelings, so they encourage each other, too.

After listening to people in the depths of despair and hopelessness, such help is invaluable.

What have you learned talking to people?

All sorts of people call Samaritans, for all sorts of reasons.

Not everyone is suicidal or in the process of killing themselves; they may be finding life particularly tough at present and need to talk to someone who will listen to them without judging them.

So many people feel lonely and isolated, and sometimes they will have gone for days without speaking to anyone.

So many also feel alone even when surrounded by friends and family.

And for people who prefer writing to talking, Samaritans can be emailed, too.

Can anyone become a Samaritan?

While volunteering for Samaritans may not be for everyone, people of a range of ages and backgrounds do it.

Ex-Premier League footballer Leon McKenzie, left, has supported the Samaritans after his own struggles. Credit: PA

I would certainly encourage anyone with even the slightest interest to get in touch with the charity and find out how they can help.

It's not only changed my life - it's shaped my understanding of what life is.

How has being a Samaritan changed your life?

It's changed my life in all sorts of ways.

Most obviously, there's the commitment required in terms of time and energy, from the extensive training to the weekly shifts, some of which last through the night.

But its most significant effects have been more profound.

It's helped me become much better at listening and led me to a deeper understanding of those emotions we all feel.

It's reminded me that, whatever differences there may be between us, we share a common humanity.

Every aspect of my experience with Samaritans has been worthwhile in its own way.

Volunteering can be daunting and demanding - but above all, it's extraordinarily rewarding.

  • If you are in distress or need some support, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day on 116 123 or through their website.

  • If you wish to volunteer head to this page