Tuesday, October 23, 2012

SOS in Paris

SOS Paris is a call-in Helpline for English language speakers in Paris. While I've never availed myself of their services or volunteered I had a friend who did. My friend was very committed and went through the volunteer training by a psychologist.  She then hired a babysitter and volunteered two evenings a month at a small donated office space. This concept of her sitting alone, her supervisor consultant not onsite but a phone call away, pushed my curious button.
Who called on the help-line? Paris isn't all croissants, berets and baguettes when you actually live there. Were the callers lonely businessmen, tired expat moms, consular officials who felt alienated from the French culture, a foreign wife unable to make friends?
Most of all I wondered if she felt confident enough to talk people through a crisis?  I asked her how she might handle a call from someone wanting to get help in a country far from their own.  How could she help a depressed or suicidal person who reaches out by calling her?
No rocket science or Freud required she told me. Still, I remember seeing a book about Jung in her flat but she said 'we basically listen, sometime that's all a person needs. They grasp at a lifeline provided by someone who'll listen and respond to them in their own language.' The help-line is confidential. No names are given and no phone numbers are logged.
This is information from their website: Help is just a phone call away whether you're worried, confused or just want someone to talk to. Maybe all you need is some practical information like where to find an English-speaking doctor, how to work with your local mairie, or where to get help when you need it. That's what this volunteer community service organization, now in its 25th year, is all about.

Whatever the problem or question, you can talk to a friendly listener, anonymously and in confidence, between 3 and 11 p.m. every day.
If you're lonely, you're like the majority of people who call SOS Help. Others call because they're depressed. Latest statistics show 50 percent of the issues discussed were personal (loneliness, sexual), 16 percent health/depression, 15 percent were about relationships and 9 percent for information. Economic problems (housing, employment, financial) registered at 7 percent, and 3 percent of calls were crisis-related (suicide, alcohol/drugs, rape and violence).
"Some of our calls are from people who call us regularly," says Plum-Le Tan, SOS Help's administrative director. "We are a part of their support system."
With some 6,000 phone calls a year, SOS Help hears from a broad cross-section of the English-speaking community in France. The majority of callers (68 percent) are in the 20-39 age range with a further 23 percent in the 40-59 age range, according to SOS Help statistics.
Volunteer listeners hail from from all over the world and share an interest in the welfare of people and a desire to serve their community. They are empathetic, non-judgmental, and receive thorough training from professional psychotherapists including listening skills and specific topics like bereavement, drug abuse and suicide.

My friend told me about some of her conversational experiences and there was one that got my 'what if's' going. I'm fictionalizing it and it's slowly becoming a short story...at least that's the plan.
No names, the streets are changed and murder might be involved.
Cara - Tuesday


  1. Followed your tweet to this great blog. Interesting post. Would enjoy seeing where your short story goes.

  2. Thanks for your interest Dennis I'll update progress on the story!

  3. What a different take on Americans (or at least English speakers) in Paris! It belies a lot of stereotypical thinking. Thank you, Cara, for opening my eyes and many others' I'm sure. Can't wait to see the story.

  4. "My friend told me about some of her conversational experiences" - Great, does that mean your friend shares the "stories" of depressed/lonely/suicidal people who are calling the helpline? Well, I am glad you will at least be getting a short story out of it. You have to fictionalize it, though, for sure, after all suicide doesn't make for a riveting whodunnit.