“Befriending has saved thousands of lives in Britain. My job now is to organise it all over the world, until suicide becomes unimportant as a cause of death.”
– Chad Varah, Founder of Samaritans.
He made his debut as a vicar by burying a 14 year old girl who’d killed herself when her periods started because she thought she had a sexually transmitted disease. That had a profound effect on him.
In 1953 he set up Samaritans. Ten years later there were 41 branches of Samaritans in the UK and Ireland. Just three years later there were 6,537 Samaritans volunteers based in 80 branches and calls to Samaritans have continued to go up every year. The number of branches is now at 202.
It all started in 1953. Chad strongly believed that those in crisis should have access to a number they could call at any time. He coped with callers with the help of his secretary for some weeks in November 1953 but then useless amateurs began offering to help. He bounced off the ones he didn’t like and graciously allowed the ones he found agreeable to run errands for him and keep the clients amused while waiting to be ushered in to his presence.
It soon became evident that they were doing the clients more good than he was. Everybody needed befriending, only a minority needed his counselling or referral to a psychiatrist. By 2nd February 1954 he called these amateurs together and said, “Over to you Samaritans. Never again shall I pick up the emergency phone, nor be the one to say ‘Come in and have a coffee’ when a client taps at the door. I shall select you and supervise you and discipline you and sack you if necessary, and see the clients who need something more than your befriending, and I shall make the decisions you are not competent to make. But you are the life-savers, and one day everyone will recognise what suicidal people need.”
Isn’t it a great pity that suicide had not yet become an ‘unimportant’ cause of death!
Sadly that day has not yet arrived when everyone recognises what suicidal people need.