INTERVIEW: Samaritans Festival Branch
Posted on 12.05.2017
This Mental Health Awareness Week, we got in touch with Samaritans Festival Branch to find out how their volunteer run service can support someone if they’re having a difficult time at a festival.
What service do Samaritans provide at festivals?
At festivals we offer a safe space where people can sit down, talk, and express their feelings, 24 hours a day. Samaritans are known for providing non-judgmental, confidential emotional support, we don’t advise or tell people what to do; we just listen. We will signpost to other services if appropriate but most folks just want to talk about what is going on in their lives and to feel they are being listened to.
We wear discreet Samaritans badges rather than tabards; that way if we are talking to a caller, to someone passing by it just looks like people talking. Despite our name we do not have any religious connections at all, nor do we fundraise at festivals – we are simply there to provide a service to anyone that needs it.
What festivals do you go to?
This year we will attend around 20 events, ranging from big names like Glastonbury, Reading, Leeds and Download, through to smaller independents such as Kendal Calling, Y-not, Arc TanGent and Bestival, to niche events such as biker rallies. We go to a huge variety of events and are always looking for more to be at!
“We want people to have a good time at festivals but for those who aren’t, we are there.” – Sophie, Director, Samaritans Festival Branch
What kind of issues do you support people with?
All and everything, from anxiety, depression and other mental health issues to relationship problems, money worries, unemployment, concerns about sexuality; whatever someone wants to talk about. We can’t ever ‘fix’ people but we can be there for them, we are prepared to talk things through with them without judgment, even if they are expressing suicidal feelings. We feel it is important that people are allowed to talk about their issues in their way and be heard.
Why do you think it’s so important to provide mental health support at festivals?
A festival can be a difficult environment if you are not in a good place. Huge crowds of, mostly, very happy people having a great time, lack of privacy and hygiene challenges, these things can really take their toll on anybody, but especially someone with a mental health condition. Being an unhappy person in a field full of people having a great time can be a very lonely place – but we are always there to listen.
Is there anything you think festivals could do differently to better support people with mental health needs?
Support organisations like Samaritans to support your audiences, is the easy answer! However, being aware of the need and accepting that something needs doing to address it is the first step. Last year 130 volunteers with Festival Samaritans talked with almost 10,000 people at events, but we are still barely scratching the surface. People with mental health needs have just as much right to enjoy the music and fun of festivals as anyone else; they may just need a little support to be able to do so.
Click here to find out more about the Samaritans Festival Branch and the services they can provide at festivals.