Volunteers at a national confidential listening service for older people say that many callers are "deeply worried" about keeping their properties warm this winter particularly during the current cold snap.
Aine Brady, CEO of Third Age, the not-for-profit organisation running the SeniorLine said that their traditional caller can be lonely and isolated.
However, anxiety is now a huge issue as people attempt to manage their funds during the winter.
"Feelings of fear and anxiety have worsened recently, with many callers deeply worried about keeping warm this winter, heating their homes, managing their energy. A number qualify for the winter fuel allowance, but even so they have to ration the heat.
"Older people can feel the cold more, are afraid to exercise on icy roads, so many are more housebound and their mental health can suffer," she said.
Senior Line is open every day of the year from 10am to 10pm on the Freefone number 1800 80 45 91. It is now been funded by Mental Health Ireland to deliver a special course to its hundred plus trained volunteers.
Titled ‘Coming Through Covid’, the course aims to help volunteers to support callers who have lived through Covid and now face a worrying winter. There are also self-care tips for both callers and volunteers.
Programme Manager Damian Leneghan said that when we talk about mental health, we often refer to mental ill-health — being unwell rather than being well.
"Being mentally healthy means coping with life’s everyday challenges. These difficulties can include the sadness, worries and changing moods we all experience, which can affect our thoughts, feelings and behaviour to varying degrees.
"Many callers can become depressed. The warm, ongoing friendly contact we provide and our practical suggestions can make a positive difference," he said.
More seriously, a minority of callers may be suicidal. Mr Leneghan said that SeniorLine has a special protocol to respond to such calls, with volunteers being available to listen and engage.
"Our volunteers are trained to deal with many serious issues and know the value of remaining with some callers when they are in crisis. We can also refer them to the Samaritans 24-hour service, while reassuring them they can call us again."
Retired nurse Mary Whitfield has been volunteering for SeniorLine for nine years. She attended a recent ‘Coming Through Covid’ course and found that a number of modules were particularly helpful.
‘"With people who phone us very regularly, you can feel stuck in a rut and wonder how you can help them The session on difficult callers, listening to other volunteers telling us what worked for them, and how they responded gave me some very ideas on how to draw people out.
"Of course, just listening has a value in itself. The main fact of a caller being able to verbalise a problem, tell us what is on their mind can clarify things for them. We can ask some questions to encourage them to reflect on how realistic they are being and help them to clarify their options’, she says.
Mary took away the fact sheets distributed at the course and keeps them by the phone when on duty.
"They can help us offer practical ideas and suggestions to the callers. I find the ones about keeping the house warm, about how to keep themselves warm very helpful. Suggesting cooking two meals together and using as you need can save on energy and means you have a meal ready."