Redbridge Samaritans on its work as World Suicide Prevention Day approaches

World Suicide Prevention Day takes place next week (picture: Shutterstock)

World Suicide Prevention Day takes place next week (picture: Shutterstock) - Credit: Archant

Suicide is now the biggest killer of young men and a major public health issue for the UK. Ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10, the Recorder spoke to Redbridge Samaritans about its work.

One of the Samaritans and Network Rail posters displayed on the Liverpool Street to Shenfield line

One of the Samaritans and Network Rail posters displayed on the Liverpool Street to Shenfield line - Credit: Archant

You never know what it’s going to be until you pick up the phone.

Paul Kelsey, the branch director of Redbridge Samaritans

Paul Kelsey, the branch director of Redbridge Samaritans - Credit: Archant

That was the message from Redbridge Samaritans about the range of calls its volunteers answer every day.

The team supports people who have been affected by, or are thinking of, suicide, as well as those hit by unemployment, mental health problems and relationship breakdowns.

In 2012, the branch was contacted 13,125 times for help via calls, texts, email and drop-ins. “If someone phones who is determined to kill themselves, we don’t rush out to try and save them,” said branch director Paul Kelsey.

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“We just try and support them, and we’ll stay on the line if they want us to.”

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Latest figures show there were 18 deaths by suicide in Redbridge in 2011, 21 in 2010 and 18 in 2009.

That bucks a national trend, which has seen a steady increase – in 2011, 6,045 people took their own lives, 437 more than the previous year.

It might have something to do with a Network Rail-backed initiative, where Samaritans volunteers have a visible presence at major stations – including Ilford.

That scheme has seen the number of suicides on the Liverpool Street to Shenfield line fall from 19 to five in the last year.

So how do volunteers handle calls where someone is planning to take their own life? We aren’t an advice line. We don’t tell people what to do,” said Paul.

“What we do is talk to people about the problems they have and why they feel the way they do.

“We ask: ‘Do you really want to die, or do you want the pain or the feeling to go away?’ That’s quite an important question.

“If we do see a suicide approaching, we don’t rush out to get an ambulance, but we do talk to people about it. Sometimes people change their minds, but we try not to be the ones who contact the emergency services unless they want us to.”

Research by Samaritans – published as Men and Suicide: Why it’s a social issue – says the most “at-risk” are men aged 35 to 54 from deprived backgrounds.

More than three-quarters of people who killed themselves in 2011 were men.

Now the charity is renewing its campaign to tackle suicide ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day on Tuesday.

It’s organised by the International Association for Suicide Prevention, the World Health Organisation and the World Federation for Mental Health.

For nearly 12 months, Samaritans has been supporting the government’s Suicide Prevention Strategy, which has ploughed £1.5million into reducing the number of people who take their own lives.

With many volunteers juggling full-time jobs with the emotionally demanding role of being a Samaritan, it isn’t just the callers who need support sometimes.

“About 20 per cent of our calls come from people who are suicidal or having suicidal thoughts, and while it’s very rare, we sometimes get a call from someone while a suicide is in process,” said Paul.

“That can be very traumatic for the volunteers, but we have a good training system and we look after our volunteers.

“Every shift has a leader and at the end of a shift each volunteer will offload their calls to the leader, so that’s a chance to get out anything that’s worrying them.”

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