You are always there. Around the clock, even on Christmas Eve, also on New Year’s Eve: the voluntary helpers of the telephone counseling service. Especially after Christmas and around the turn of the year, people’s problems come out even more than usual.
Loneliness, depression, war worries and recently more and more existential fears: the telephone counseling service is currently very busy. Especially after Christmas, many fell into a hole, says Alexander Fischhold, head of the Catholic telephone counseling service in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising.
“It’s emotionally the most stressful time of the year on the phone.” Many are still with their families at Christmas, but disappointment often follows. “Loneliness is our biggest issue. That will then be much more noticeable.”
The volunteers remain anonymous in the conversations or are given aliases to prevent callers from attempting direct contact.
“You can only do this service if you stay healthy yourself and keep a certain distance from the things that are brought to you,” says a 75-year-old with the service name “Felix”, who has been there for ten years and also over Christmas took calls from those seeking help.
“On the holidays, the themes that are already strong during the year come out even stronger. That’s loneliness and family relationships.” His main concern is to show callers that there are options and ways out.
“My life has been relatively good so far. Maybe you can give something back and help others,” says his colleague “Anneliese”, describing her motivation for starting seven years ago. “I retired at the time and thought: what can I do now?”
The contact points are staffed around the clock for those seeking advice. Volunteers conduct an estimated 50,000 calls to Protestant and Catholic telephone counseling in the Munich area each year. “We’re running at full capacity,” says manager Fischhold.
The state government is also concerned with the issue of loneliness and the associated risks of illness. Bavaria’s Health Minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) announced information services and other measures against loneliness for the coming year, such as chat phones and meeting platforms for older people or social media posts with influencers to reach younger people. In addition, a loneliness report is to be drawn up.
“The health consequences of loneliness are serious. Anyone who is lonely for a long time can become physically and mentally ill, ”said Holetschek.
Lonely people could suffer from anxiety, depression or sleep problems as well as cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure or strokes, and the risk of addiction is also increased.
“In older people, loneliness can even promote the development of dementia.” According to experts, the number of lonely people increased significantly during the corona pandemic.
The telephone counseling says that Corona itself has hardly played a role in the conversations over the past few years, but that the pandemic has acted as a catalyst for other topics. “The lonely became lonelier, the depressed more depressed – and those who drank drank more,” says Fischhold.
The issue changed with the war in Ukraine. Callers had expressed concern about a war in this country. For others who had already experienced war, old traumata came up.
In the meantime, the picture has changed again, many are in existential financial worries in view of rising prices, such as “I can no longer heat”.
If the number is busy with the Catholic pastoral care, the conversation has jumped over to the Protestant one for several years – and vice versa. “That doesn’t matter to us,” says Fischhold.
There are also discussions about faith, but they concern more general topics beyond denominational ties, such as the question of the meaning of life.
In the case of the Protestant pastoral care, there are also Catholic volunteers and vice versa – and there are also many helpers who have left the church. But: “You have to be aware that you work for a church institution,” says Fischhold.
There are more than 100 telephone counseling centers nationwide, no distinction is made according to denomination. According to Fischhold, the first telephone counseling service in Germany began work in Berlin in 1956, and the service started in Munich in 1962.
Help in psychological emergencies is also available around the clock in Bavaria from the district crisis services. Social Affairs Minister Ulrike Scharf (CSU) also referred to the women’s aid system, which is also available around the clock anonymously and free of charge.