Content warning: contains mentions of suicide and self-harm.
You can also find the original article on the Hoot.
Saturday 10th September was World Suicide Prevention Day. In this article a Samaritan volunteer tells us more about what they do and how to access Samaritans while in prison.
Suicide can be a taboo subject even now in 2022. I do think open conversations about mental health are becoming more ‘acceptable’ and people are certainly more aware of the struggles that a lot of the population goes through. Depression and self-harm are issues that are quite often linked to suicide, so it is important that mental health is taken seriously, so that people are able to get the help they need before it’s too late.
Suicide statistics are very tricky to interpret but they are hugely important to the work that Samaritans do – “suicide data is an important public health surveillance tool and gives us a powerful starting point to help us target our work to prevent future suicides”. Data for suicides take a while to be released, currently the latest data we have is from 2020, where it was shown that 4,269 people died by suicide in England, with men aged 45-49 being the most at risk of taking their own lives. This is where the Samaritans come in.
Samaritans mission is to create a world where fewer people die by suicide. They have 201 branches across the UK and ROI, which are run by over 20,000 volunteers. The charity was set up by a vicar named Chad Varah whose belief it was, to have an emergency phone number for people contemplating suicide. In 1935 he conducted a funeral of a teenager who had taken her own life because she believed she had contracted an STD. Rather than having to face the shame of this, she did the only thing she believed was a way out, she took her life. It transpired that, she hadn’t got an STD, but rather had started her period. This stuck with Chad for a long time: he believed that if she’d had someone to turn to and share her concerns, then maybe she would not have ended her life. In the summer of 1953 Chad Varah started work on the project and on 2nd November 1953 he took the very first phone call.
These days the Samaritans isn’t just a service for people who are contemplating suicide, although a lot of the calls are from people feeling suicidal. The listeners are there to offer emotional support when a caller is going through a difficult time. The hope is that, by talking to a listener, it will provide the caller some relief to the turmoil in their head, and maybe will allow them to see what options they may have. Anyone can contact the Samaritans by freephone on 116 123.
The volunteer listeners aren’t able to offer advice but will be there to listen without judgement, and to walk with you during your difficult time.
Samaritans in prisons
Statistics show that people in prison are more likely to die by suicide. Samaritans work with prison services to help reduce suicide and self-harm in prisons. All people in prison should be offered access to the Samaritans’ helpline free of charge or if they prefer, they can write a letter to Samaritans using a freepost envelope, which can often be found in communal areas in the prison. There is also the Listener scheme inside prisons.
The Listening scheme was introduced in 1991 in HMP Swansea, following an increase in the number of suicides in prisons during the 1980s. Now there are Listeners in almost every prison across the UK and ROI. Listeners are prisoners, who provide confidential emotional support to fellow prisoners who are struggling. Listeners in prisons are specially selected and trained by Samaritans volunteers, the same training as all other volunteers, but adapted for the prison setting. Once the training is complete, the Listener will receive a certificate and must agree to follow Samaritans’ policies and values. They will receive regular support from other Samaritans volunteers, and they can phone Samaritans themselves anytime for support.
The aim is to have enough volunteer Listeners in prisons, to have someone available round the clock for anyone who needs them. Confidentiality is a big thing, and it is the same for prison Listeners as it is for any other Listener. The service must remain private, this way it gives prisoners the courage to open up and talk about what is on their mind. Even once a Listener has left prison, they must keep their work confidential. Many Listeners in prison have said how fulfilling the role is, and how much it has enriched their lives, being able to help others when they need it most. If you’re interested in becoming a Listener, pick up an application form from your wing officer or an existing Listener to get the process started.
Samaritans is there for everyone, and there should always be a way of contacting them, wherever you are. So, if you need someone to talk to, if you are struggling for whatever reason, please contact Samaritans and someone will be there to support you through your difficult time.