The helpline that provides emotional support for English-speakers in France

The helpline that provides emotional support for English-speakers in France
Photo by rupixen.com on Unsplash
During lockdown many people will feel isolated and afraid - but for people living far from home and family it can be much worse.

But for anyone struggling there is an English-language helpline specifically aimed at foreigners living in France.

The SOS Helpline is a long-established charity, but could be particularly useful for people struggling with the current situation – or any aspect of life in France.

Founded in 1974, SOS Help is a voluntary support telephone line for the English-speaking community in France. Linked to the Samaritans, it provides anonymous and confidential emotional support. 

The Local has previously spoken to one of the volunteer listeners about the type of problems that they hear from English-speaking immigrants in France.

“The main problems people call us about are solitude and loneliness.

“We have people calling who have gone for days without speaking to anyone. So we provide company as well as comfort” says Simon*. 

There is one telephone line and it is open daily from 5pm – 9pm. The line is manned in shifts by a team of volunteers and they try to keep the call duration at less than 30 minutes unless the person is in severe emotional trauma. 

“Volunteers are called ‘listeners’ because that’s what we do,” says Simon.

SOS Help has between 25 – 30 ‘listeners’ and they take more than 5,000 calls each year on everything from depression and bereavement to trouble making friends, though this number is rising.

Simon has volunteered with SOS Help for 13 years, ever since he went to an expat event and saw a stand advertising the group. He ‘listens’ three times a month on four hour shifts and there is also a monthly debrief meeting for volunteers, to make sure they themselves are not affected by the suffering they encounter. 

“These sessions are very important for 'listeners'. They're held with a psychotherapist and they help us to watch out for any transference, if volunteers start to take on the problems of callers.”

READ MORE: France in lockdown: What are the rules?

The main nationalities of callers are British and Americans, though there are also a surprising amount of French callers. 

“We don’t really know why they call, but some admit that they call us because they can’t get through to SOS Amitié (the French telephone helpline). I think people also feel at ease talking to a foreigner rather than a fellow countryman, it creates a little distance.” 

Simon says there are three categories of callers: one-off callers who are in the middle of some crisis; short-term callers going through a distressing experience over a period of time; and regular callers.

“Crucially, there is no way to know who you are going to speak to. Listeners are encouraged to volunteer on different days of the month, so it is impossible for someone to try to speak to a specific person. It’s very important that no one develops a dependence on a particular 'listener'.”

Apparently, more women than men use the service and the average age of callers is between 40 – 65 years old. “We do also have student callers, but they are normally one-off calls just after they have arrived in France about difficulties settling in and meeting people.”

If you need help and support, SOS Help can be reached on 01 46 21 46 46.

*Simon is a pseudonym to protect the volunteer’s anonymity.

 

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