English-language mental health helpline in France issues SOS

SOS Help is appealing for donations as demand for emotional support has increased during the Covid-19 crisis

30 December 2020
By Connexion journalist

Charity telephone line SOS Help is appealing for donations to allow it to continue its valued work providing a listening ear to English speakers in need.

The helpline was set up in 1974 and receives around 5,000 calls a year. It managed to keep going in 2020 with more calls than usual due to Covid-19, even though the 30 or so trained volunteer listeners had to work from home as the Listening Post was closed during the first confinement.

However, it was not able to hold its two annual English-language book sales, which bring in around €8,000 a year and cover 60% of its running costs.

One of the charity’s trained listeners, known by his helpline name David, said the organisation would welcome any donations to keep the services going.

“Our running costs are not high as we are volunteers but there is the phone bill and rental for the Listening Post to pay, and we employ professionals to train listeners and give them psychological support once a month."
“Without our fundraising events, we have had to dip into our savings to keep going. We had plans at the beginning of last year to develop the use of emails and texts to make it easier for younger people to get in touch, but for the moment we have had to abandon this project.”
He said SOS Help operates along similar lines to the Samaritans.

“All calls are anonymous and though we are based in Paris, we can be talking to anyone, anywhere in France."
"We are there to listen. We do not give advice or offer solutions. It can help to talk to someone neutral and often the person works out their own solution during the conversation. Callers say they feel guilty about burdening their close friends and family with their problems and also they do not want to be told what to do."
“During a call, you can often hear the mood in someone’s voice change. They may be tearful at first, but sound more hopeful at the end.”

SOS Help said it has always been important to reach out to the English-speaking community in France. Some of the people who call are in a very dark place and see no reason to live. Others are simply struggling with work and day-to-day life and feel there is no one to listen to them in the language they are comfortable with.

Covid-19 created increased anxiety: “We might speak to someone who came to France with dreams and aspirations but these have been dashed because they cannot work in the sector they planned to make their living in. Some people have said that even though their everyday French is good, they find it much easier to express more complex ideas and emotions concerned with their fears about Covid-19 in English.”

All donations are welcome: €15 would cover the cost of running the Listening Post for one day, €25 a month’s phone bill, and €300 the phone for a year.

Tax residents in France can deduct 66% of any donation against tax.

If you need to talk to someone at SOS Help, telephone 01 46 21 46 46. Donate at soshelpline.org.

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