Care and compassion Health People

Support at the end of the line

Support during tough times: a Wellington Samaritans Volunteer speaks with a caller. Photo: Supplied

From school children to the elderly, New Zealanders have found support by contacting helplines during the tough Covid-19 isolation period.

Wellington Samaritans has received an increasing number of calls since the Government introduced strict household quarantining near the end of March, to try to contain the coronavirus (Covid-19).

Some callers are ringing a helpline for the first time which takes courage, says Wellington Samaritans Board Member and Volunteer, Kelly Wright.

Since late March, demand and response rates have increased 23 per cent and 11 per cent respectively, compared with the same period last year. Remarkably, about half the number of volunteers answered these calls because fewer have been available to work during the Covid-19 crisis.

For 55 years, the service has run from the crypt of the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, however due to the coronavirus restrictions, staff and volunteers are operating from their homes.

Callers’ major problems are loneliness and anxiety. These are concerns in normal times, however the crisis has heightened them, Kelly says.

In usual times, those who feel lonely can go for walks or play bowls, visit charity shops or cafes and simply be among people. During the quarantine, such places have been closed and some individuals have felt afraid to go walking plus have needed to keep a safe distance from others.

They’ve lost that sense of connection with the community,” she says.


At present, the helpline exists to “offer hope and encouragement to people…just someone to listen brings huge comfort”.

Samaritans Aotearoa New Zealand encompasses centres in Wellington, Levin, Palmerston North and Rotorua/Hawke’s Bay.

Further south

Further south, the Loss and Grief Centre team is busy with Southland and Otago residents contacting its Emotional Well-being Phone Call Service.

Centre Director Caroline Loo says the team connects with about 75 individuals each week using various technology. She says that many are new to the centre and this type of service is needed, as the lockdown pushes people’s coping skills to the edge.

More Kiwis could go to work or school during Alert Level 3 of the quarantine, yet new clients are still being referred to the centre. Others say that after six weeks of using the call service, they are finding their feet and no longer need it.

Caroline says those seeking emotional support range from an 8 year-old to a 95 year-old and that callers’ grief is related to the isolation.

Grief is the underlying thing but it’s triggered by lots of different reasons.”


For example, the grief may be because they can’t see their whānau or that a loved one’s anniversary is approaching and can’t be commemorated as planned.

In such a case, a centre team member will assist the person in brainstorming ideas and finding a new plan.

Giving hope: the Loss and Grief Centre in Invercargill before the quarantine. Photo:
Caroline Loo

Other causes of grief may be anxiety about how society will function in future or frustration from wanting to contribute, yet not having this opportunity. The ongoing loss of social interaction is another trigger.

“The longer it goes on, the more people are experiencing that grief that comes from loss of connection with others,” Caroline says.

While their minds may understand that isolating their households to contain the virus is the correct thing to do, their bodies may react against this.

She suggests people continue to proactively look after themselves, for example by doing breathing exercises and communicating with others.

Knowing that the isolation marathon’s finishing line is near is also valuable. Kiwis can stop and consider what they’ve accomplished, which provides impetus to keep going.

“We’ve done a huge amount of really good work…we need to stop and acknowledge this…and be proud.”

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For further information:

Samaritans helpline 0800 72 66 66  and about volunteering

Emotional Well-being Phone Call Service, call 027 443 8788, write to [email protected] or use Facebook

People experiencing any type of distress can free phone or text 1737 any time.


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