‘It’s ok to ask someone if they’re feeling suicidal’: advice and support from Samaritans listening volunteers

There are a wide variety of places where you can access help for mental health

The Samaritans charity works tirelessly to help those struggling with their mental health, offering a wealth of advice and support.

The charity has a team of listening volunteers across the UK who help those in their time of need and who may be feeling suicidal.

Zainab (left), Andy (middle) and Maria (right) are all listening volunteers at Samaritans

This World Suicide Prevention Day, listening volunteers at Samaritans offer advice and support for those struggling with mental health, as well as those worried about loved ones.

‘It’s crucial that we all look out for each other’

Zainab, a Samaritans listening volunteer at the Croydon branch, said: “Life for a lot of people is tough right now, and no-one should feel ashamed about sharing what’s challenging them or feel like there’s no one they can turn to.”

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The charity’s focus for this year’s prevention day involves directly asking those who may be struggling if they are ok and if they are having suicidal thoughts.

“If someone is feeling suicidal, they might be distant or distracted or feel disconnected. Asking someone directly if they’re having suicidal thoughts can give them the time and space to express what they’re really going through,” Zainab added.

She said just being there to listen, showing you care, letting people know they’re not a burden and that there’s always someone they can turn to can help those struggling.

“Suicide can be seen as a taboo subject, so it is important people know it is ok to ask things like, ‘are you feeling suicidal?’ as it helps the topic of suicide enter conversations more,” Zainab said.

“It’s crucial that we all look out for each other. It could help save someone you love. Suicide can be preventable, and everyone has an important role to play.”

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‘It’s ok to ask someone if they’re having suicidal thoughts’

Andy Baines-Vosper, 49, was struggling to cope with his mental health and experienced a breakdown a few years ago while trying to hold down his demanding job.

Andy, now a Samaritans listening volunteer, worked in an industry that was full on and “all-consuming”, regularly working extra hours in the evenings and weekends in addition to his 9 to 5 shifts.

He experienced anxiety and depression, which led to a breakdown.

Andy said he didn’t want to be alone with his thoughts and “was in such a hopeless place,” but a turning point came when he realised he “could lose my family and myself”.

“I knew deep down there was still hope and I could change things for myself. I began having more honest conversations at home and took time off work - a combination of those things started to change things for me. I received counselling, medication and took time off work to recover.”

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Andy added that having been “in that dark place”, he can “speak from experience and say it’s ok to ask someone if they’re having suicidal thoughts, it can give them permission to open up”.

If you’re worried about someone, try asking them directly as it could save a life, he said.

Andy still struggles “from time to time”, but he now has techniques in place to handle it, such as talking to his wife about what’s going on in his head, switching off from everything, getting plenty of exercise, gardening and getting out into the countryside.

‘It’s important to reach out if you’re struggling’

Shilpa Shah, 45, a branch director volunteering for Samaritans’ Waltham Forest branch in north-east London, wanted to help her local community which then led her to become a volunteer.

Shilpa said she hasn’t personally been affected by suicide, but the volunteering opportunity was “simply about helping others” and she could see “the impact I would have on helping others by being a volunteer at Samaritans”.

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“We aren’t a specialised service that only works with people with addiction or in crisis. We’re there for everyone,” she added.

“Nowadays people are busier than ever before and loneliness is increasing. Anyone can

turn to Samaritans and no one else needs to know about it. It feels as though the stigma is

decreasing when it comes to openly talking about mental health but there’s still some way to go.”

Shilpa said it is “so important that you reach out if you are struggling,” and although some may think the charity is just there for people at crisis point who are feeling suicidal, Samaritans is also there for those people “before it gets to that point”.

The charity is there for anyone who needs to talk, day or night, 365 days a year, she added.

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‘It’s ok to not be ok’

Maria Hinkley, 43, is a volunteer with Samaritans’ Torquay branch.

The mum-of-four has volunteered with the charity for six years and called it “an

inspiration”.

“It’s changed my outlook on life completely. I’ve had my own struggles in life and had to manage low moods, but giving something back to people who are facing the same struggles is hugely empowering for me,” Maria said.

“It goes without saying that being there for somebody who might feel like they don’t want to be here anymore is important.

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“I would say to anyone struggling not to give up hope, reach out - it’s ok to not be ok. I use that phrase a lot.

“If someone says they’re suicidal it’s not true to say you can’t change anything. It’s

important to remember feeling actively suicidal is temporary. Talking things through means there’s a better chance of discovering options - it really can save a life.”

Where can I go for help with my mental health?

There are a wide variety of places where you can access help for mental health, with specific services depending on what you may need.

MQ Mental Health Research, a charity which invests in scientific research into different mental health conditions and treatments, including a better understanding of suicide to find effective preventions, has compiled a list of resources.

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For yourself:

In an emergency you should always dial 999. If you are feeling depressed or having suicidal thoughts you can always reach out to your GP or call NHS Direct on 111.

  • Samaritans - Samaritans are one of the most widely known helplines and are available 24/7 by calling 116 123. However, they offer more than just a telephone service. Their website offers advice and resources for people of all ages and you can email them on [email protected] at any time.
  • Papyrus - Papyrus offers targeted support for younger people through their ‘Hopeline’ which can be reached on 0800 068 4141, via email on [email protected] or via text on 07860 039 967. They also have a range of resources and advice on their website relating to dealing with young people at risk of suicide, including resources for mental health professionals.
  • SupportLine - Support Line offers confidential emotional support, particularly aimed at those who are isolated, at risk or vulnerable to abuse. They aim to help people develop health coping strategies through their telephone counselling service which can be reached on 01708 765 200.
  • Childline (for under 19s) -  Childline is a free, confidential service for anyone under the age of 19. Their website has advice for dealing with experiences, specifically tailored for children such as bullying and how to make friends. They can be contacted at any time for free on 0800 1111.

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  • Nightline Association (for university students) - Most universities in the UK have a Nightline service which is run by student volunteers for other students. This peer to peer support service gives students a chance to talk about whatever is worrying them in confidence. You can find your university’s Nightline details by searching on the Nightline website.

For someone else:

In an emergency you should always dial 999.

  • SANE - The SANE helpline is open between 4pm and 10pm 365 days a year and can be reached on 0300 3047000. They offer emotional support not just for people experiencing depression, suicidal thoughts or other mental illnesses, but also for friends and family who need support or advice.
  • YoungMinds parents helpline - If you are worried about your child’s mental health (up to the age of 25) and want to speak to someone about it then Young Minds offer a helpline just for parents where you can get support and advice. Open Monday to Friday between 9:30am and 4pm on the number 0808 802 5544.
  • Rethink Mental Illness - If you are looking for some face to face support for your loved one then Rethink Mental Illness run a network of over 140 local support groups, offering a welcoming non-judgemental space where people can talk about their feelings with professionals and others. Find a local group on the Rethink website.

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  • Samaritans - If you want to speak to a loved one because you are concerned about them, but are not sure how to do it, then Samaritans also offer online advice on how to reach out and the best way to support someone at risk of suicide.