Frequently asked questions about The Samaritans and the e-mail service

Contents

  1. What service do you offer?
  2. Are you a religious group?
  3. How did you start?
  4. Are you Confidential?
  5. I’m worried that my friend, etc. may be suicidal
  6. Are there other suicide helplines?
  7. How are you funded?
  8. Do you have WWW pages? Why can’t I telnet to you, etc. ?
  9. Can I help?
  10. What information can you give me about…?
  11. Do you keep records?
  12. Will my messages always be answered by the same person?
  13. What is your phone number ?
  14. What is your national/international structure?
  15. How do I get an updated version of this FAQ?
  16. What E-Mail address should I use for non-urgent items?
  17. What sort of people are Samaritans?
  18. Do many people use you?
  19. Can I use PGP encryption in messages to you?
  20. What format should I use to mail you?

1. What service do you offer?

The Samaritans’ aim is to provide emotional support to anyone feeling despairing or suicidal. We believe that everyone has the right to control their own destiny – including the right to end their life. We won’t tell you what to do and we don’t judge – we are here to offer confidential emotional support. In the UK and Ireland, Samaritan Branches are open for telephone calls 24 hours every day of the year and for visitors during the daytime. We also respond to e-mail every day.


2. Are you a religious group?

No. Our name is an historical accident. When The Daily Mirror first found out about our service, they said “Thank goodness for these good samaritans”.


3. How did you start?

The Samaritans was set up in 1953, in London. We now have over 200 Branches in the UK and Ireland and are affiliated to Befrienders International who have Branches in many countries. E-Mail access was started in July 1994 from Cheltenham, UK where the idea originated.


4. Are you Confidential?

The Samaritans offers absolute confidentiality. There are no exceptions. What our callers say or write to us never goes beyond The Samaritans – whatever the circumstances, the callers age, or state of mind. Our policy of absolute confidentiality also means that, if asked, we will neither confirm nor deny whether someone is in contact with us. The confidentiality lasts for ever : even after death. The Police and other agencies understand and accept our total confidentiality.

While we guarantee our confidentiality, we cannot be responsible for the medium you use to reach us. Phones can be bugged, or lines can get crossed. If we ever discovered such problems, you may be sure that we would take vigorous steps to stop it.

One way of increasing your security on E-mail is to send to us via one of the “Anonymous Servers”. These strip your identity from a message and replace it with an anonymous ID number (to which we can reply). The easiest way to do this is to send your message to samaritans@anon.twwells.com and it will (after a delay) reach us with your ID removed. For more information, send blank mail to help@anon.twwells.com which should result in an automatically generated message explaining how to use them. A disadvantage of these services is that they can be very slow.


5. I’m worried that my friend, etc. may be suicidal

Please make contact! We will often be willing to offer our support to potentially suicidal people referred to us by others. If we do make contact, our confidentiality rule will mean that we cannot tell you what they said.


6. Are there other suicide helplines?

There are many helplines available for all sorts of issues. In the UK and the Republic of Ireland The Samaritans is the unique helpline for people in crisis who may be considering suicide. The Samaritans is unique because it is available 24 hours a day, every day of the year, it is confidential, non judgemental and entirely free. Of course, you don’t have to be suicidal to call The Samaritans. If you’re worried about something, feel upset or confused, or you just want to talk to someone, The Samaritans wants to hear from you.


7. How are you funded?

The Samaritans is funded almost entirely by charitable donations – money from the general public, charitable trusts, companies and so on. Although it costs no more than the price of a phone call to reach The Samaritans, each Branch must pay for publicity, volunteer training, heating, lighting, and of course phone bills as we often call back people who may have run out of change in a call box. Each Branch is an independent charity and is responsible for raising its own running costs and recruiting its own volunteers. There is also a national Headquarters, called The General Office of The Samaritans which manages national publicity, advertising, fundraising, training and communication between all the Branches of The Samaritans. Centrally it costs £8 million to pay for these areas and we rely very heavily on donations from the public. If you would like further information on supporting The Samaritans through a donation write to us at the General Office. If you’re in the UK and would like to make a donation by credit card, call 01753 819009.


8. Do you have WWW pages? Why can’t I telnet to you, etc. ?

Access is currently limited to this Web site and Internet E-mail. This is always answered by real human volunteers, there are no “automatic” responses. Samaritans are carefully selected and trained in the care of the suicidal and despairing.

Other Internet techniques such as Telnet, or “anonymous ftp” will not work. The “Whois” service from InterNIC should show who we are. The contacts listed by “whois” are not Samaritan volunteers.


9. Can I help?

Direct support of callers to us is restricted to members of The Samaritans (or BI affiliates) in branches participating in the scheme. We know it would be technically feasible to use geographically remote volunteers just as it would be possible to do something similar with our telephone work. However, in the interests of volunteer support, confidentiality and the quality of service all calls for help are received by volunteers who are physically present at our Branches.

The Samaritans urgently needs more volunteers so that we can answer all the calls for help from people in crisis. There is a range of ways you can get involved; by volunteering to train as a “listening” volunteer – you’ll be carefully prepared before going on the phones and will be fully supported once you start as a “listening” volunteer. You can also help out as a “fundraising” volunteer by taking part in sponsored events, shaking a collecting tin in the street etc. Or perhaps you would prefer to help out more generally, perhaps by offering your skills as a designer, accountant, public speaker etc.

Please give this service and our address jo@samaritans.org publicity. There are tens of millions of people in the world who can reach us via E-mail. Thousands of them are probably feeling suicidal. Can you get this posted to a BBS? How about a notice board you have access to? We have a poster available. It’s intended for the computer room door, computer shops etc. It is available electronically for you to print out. The format is a zip file containing Windows Write™ and Word™ versions, which you can download from here. Postscript format is available too. Just mail us and ask us for it. No special syntax is required, all mail is read by human volunteers! Other formats may be available on request.

10. What information can you give me about…?

We specialise in helping the suicidal and desperate with their feelings. We do not hold an extensive database of other organisations and groups. In the UK, a better source of information may be your local Citizens Advice Bureau or local library. We do have access to telephone contact details for Branches of Befrienders International (BI) of which The Samaritans is a member. Your local phone directory may list a help line but be aware that organisations that are not members of BI may not offer the same confidentiality, non-intervention and non-evangelism.


11. Do you keep records?

We keep callers’ E-mail messages and our replies for up to 30 days to preserve continuity. We will honour requests to delete all your messages that remain on our computer. We keep statistics for a considerable period.


12. Will my messages always be answered by the same person?

No. We reply to mail daily but each individual volunteer typically replies to mail once or twice a week and will reply to all the messages received on their day. That’s why we keep messages for a short time.


13. What is your phone number ?

If you are going through a crisis or simply want to talk to someone, you can call the following numbers.

In the UK and Northern Ireland, call 0345 90 90 90 and you will get through to the nearest available Samaritans Branch. Calls are charged at the local rate.

In the Republic of Ireland, call 1850 60 90 90 and you will get through to your nearest available Samaritans Branch. Calls are charged at the local rate.

If you prefer you can call your local Branch – their number will be in the phone book or your telephone operator can put you through.


14. What is your national/international structure?

The UK organisation:

The General Office of The Samaritans,
10 The Grove,
SLOUGH,
SL1 1QP,
UK

Phone (not emergencies): +44 (1753) 532713
Fax: +44 (1753) 819004

The Samaritans is a member of:

Befrienders International,
23 Elysium Gate,
126 New Kings Road,
LONDON
SW6 4LZ,
UK


15. How do I get an updated version of this FAQ?

Mail jo@samaritans.org (or samaritans@anon.twwells.com) and ask in human language.


16. What e-mail address should I use for non-urgent items?

Use admin@samaritans.org for all mail not asking for emotional support. If you prefer to conceal your real e-mail address from us, please use samaritans@anon.twwells.com.


17. What sort of people are Samaritans?

Samaritans are unpaid volunteers who have been carefully selected and trained to offer emotional support in a crisis. There is a wide variation in age, occupation etc.


18. Do many people use you?

Yes. In 1994 alone 3,750,000 contacts were made by people in crisis. That’s one call every 9 seconds. This is why we have over 200 Branches in the UK and Ireland and why we continue to introduce new methods of contacting us such as E-mail, text telephones and our single national telephone number.


19. Can I use PGP encryption in messages to you?

Yes.

  • PGP versions 2.3 to 2.6.2 (and probably beyond) are supported.
  • Please send your public key with each message so we can send an encrypted reply.
  • Your key may contain your real e-mail address! Consider generating and using another key with user ID “Anon” for use with our anonymous server address samaritans@anon.twwells.com.
  • Some other anonymous servers cannot remail PGP messages
  • Our public key is at the bottom of this FAQ.
  • For technical information about PGP we suggest you ask on Usenet alt.security.pgp.
  • Check that your country’s laws permit you to use encryption
  • For security reasons, we may change our key from time to time.

20. What format should I use to mail you?

We accept ordinary e-mail or PGP encrypted e-mail (see section 19 above) Please don’t use UUencode, MIME attachments, graphics (or other binary) files.