No call for help goes unanswered

by Central London Samaritans
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No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
No call for help goes unanswered
Listening volunteer
Listening volunteer

How does financial hardship/insecurity affect mental health and suicidality?

Suicide is complex and is rarely caused by one thing. However, there is strong evidence of associations between financial difficulties, mental health and suicide. Struggling to make ends meet can lead to feelings of anxiety and shame. These feelings can themselves impact our motivation and ability to manage our money, and some people may experience a sense of entrapment or loss of control. All these feelings are associated with suicide. These stressors will not be experienced by everyone equally, with those already in lower income households or with pre-existing mental health conditions likely to be among those worst impacted.

Alongside these stressors, the current crisis may lead to more people experiencing other risk factors for suicide and poor mental health, such as unmanageable debt.

Is everyone impacted by the cost-of-living crisis? Are some people impacted more than others?

High levels of inflation impact everyone, as the prices of household necessities like energy and food increase. However, this impact will not be equal – people with the lowest levels of income will be hardest hit, and we know that people in this group are already at higher risk of suicide. People among the poorest 10% of society are more than twice as likely to die from suicide compared to the wealthiest 10% of society. The reasons for this go beyond the current crisis, covering a wide range of issues. However, the cost-of-living crisis will put further pressure on people who are already at greater risk of suicide.

For households in receipt of social security benefits, the value of these benefits has not increased in line with inflation. Households that rely on this money will therefore be substantially worse off in real terms as prices rise.

Another group that may be harder hit are those with pre-existing mental health conditions. These two groups are not mutually exclusive, with mental health conditions more prevalent among people in lower income households. The cost-of-living crisis has arrived in the context of significant rises in the number of people seeking support for their mental health, following the Covid pandemic. Following the pandemic, there has been rising demand for mental health support and unprecedented waiting lists for mental health services across the UK and Republic of Ireland have led to many struggling to get help.

Can debt impact suicide rates?

As prices rise, people may be more likely to find themselves in debt in order to pay for essentials. Unmanageable debt is a risk factor of suicide, with a 2018 study finding that 23% of people who attempted suicide in the year prior were in problem debt. Indebtedness (ranging from mortgage arrears to debts to friends and family) has also been found to be associated with other risk factors for suicide, notably depression and anxiety.

What can Samaritans do if I am struggling with the cost of living?

At Samaritans, we are here to listen. Whatever you’re going through, whether that be worried about the cost of living or anything else, a Samaritan is there to help. We are here 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to provide non-judgmental support – we are here for anyone who needs someone.

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Our branch finally re-opened for face-to-face support on June 1st, 2022. Face-to-face emotional support is a crucial part of our service. We offer a safe space for anyone who needs someone to talk to, who may be struggling or has perhaps reached crisis point. We are now open every day of the week from 9am to 9pm. No appointment or referral needed.

Before COVID

We saw callers between 9am and 9pm, every day of the year, as a drop-in service. Some days we saw as many as 20; some days half-a-dozen or so. On average, ten a day.  Some were regular; we were part of how they coped with life.  Some were homeless; we make regular outreach visits to food drop sites and individuals would then come to the branch for support. Some were local workers or students, perhaps brought in by their manager, referred by their college or university, or who heard of us through the talks we do. And many we just don’t know about, of course.

During lockdowns

We closed to callers when the first lockdown came into effect on March 23rd, 2020. We vowed to keep the branch going 24x7, despite volunteers shielding, moving out of London, unwilling to travel by public transport, and so on. We manged to keep our phone lines open throughout the many lockdowns we had. We also used this time to improve our branch’s ventilation and reorganise our internal layout to space out desks in the phone room. We created three larger rooms for potential visitors and improved ventilation in these, in the hope that we would re-open soon. 

Preparing to reopen

Before re-opening our branch to visitors, we had to ensure that we:

  • Prepared volunteers, especially those (now about 130) who’d never experienced a face-to-face contact before;
  • Acquired and tested the technology to enable contacts to be observed and heard for callers and volunteers’ safeguarding;
  • Redecorated and prepared the three newly-created visitor rooms;
  • Set up new guidance and processes, including capturing information for the evaluation of the pilot.

Where we are now

In the first two weeks of re-opening, we had 34 visitors. On the quietest days we had none at all. On the busiest day we had seven. It’s still too early and the numbers are too low to see any pattern emerging. 

We’re still working on …

  • Improving our waiting room. It had been neglected for over two years. Most of the plants had died and it looked very shabby.
  • Improving our exterior. We are in a courtyard and visitors and volunteers are faced with the bins and debris of the local café and neighbouring flats. Our staff members are working with neighbours to improve the area, get regular cleaning of the courtyard and improve our external signage.

Every visitor is someone who has chosen to seek emotional support in person from another human being and we are proud and humbled to be providing this again. This wouldn’t have been possible without the kindness and hard work of a great many volunteers: the training team and onsite support team who are supporting newer volunteers and those volunteers who re-decorated our visitor rooms. Last but not least, we are grateful to all of you who keep supporting us over the years!

Face-to-face room 1
Face-to-face room 1
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The pandemic has impacted many of us and particularly people with pre-existing mental health conditions, young people, health workers, people in prison and middle-aged men. 

In addition, in the UK, we are currently experiencing significant financial pressures which are about to impact many of the most vulnerable people in society as energy and other costs are set to increase in a way that has not been seen for decades.    

As we know from our 2017 Dying from Inequality report, socioeconomic disadvantage increases the risk of suicidal behaviour. Men in the lowest social class, living in the most deprived areas, are up to ten times more at risk of suicide than those in the highest social class, living in the most affluent areas.

This is why, now more than ever, it is important for our listening volunteers to do all that they can to be here for people who are in need of support. 

One of our main goals is to increase the available shift hours so we can provide emotional support to a greater number of people. This should be feasible given the successes we have seen in our on-line training of new volunteers. Having made certain changes to the layout of our premises already, we continue to look at ways in which capacity can be expanded in a safe and compliant way, including looking at minor changes to our rota pattern. 

The majority of the effort required to achieve this goal will be in the continued focus on recruitment and training of new volunteers. We have plans to train a further 100 listening volunteers before the end of December 2022.  

Another key goal of ours is to re-establish and extend our Outreach Programme within the local community. This covers our work with the homeless, prisoners, educational organisations, those bereaved by suicide, corporates and organisations wanting to support their staff in dealing with difficult issues. Our volunteer leads in each of these areas are working hard to make sure we provide as much support as possible to these vulnerable groups. 

 An example of the expansion in service we are planning is through our ‘Facing the Future’ programme which provides support to those bereaved by suicide. We run this program in conjunction with the bereavement charity Cruse and our plans for the next 12 months alone include running 48 on-line support groups, each having up to 7 individuals who need our support, with each group running for 6 consecutive weeks for 90 minutes per session.  

Our volunteers play a vital role in supporting people and we are determined to remain open to ensure we are there for anyone who need someone to talk to.  

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Listening volunteer
Listening volunteer

The Caller Outcomes study measured the impact of our helpline on callers primary (distress and suicidality) and secondary (emotional wellbeing) outcomes. This study also explored callers’ experiences of using the helpline, and the difference it makes to their lives.

Key outcomes:

  • For all callers, on average, there was a significant reduction in levels of distress from the start to end of a call, and from the start of a call to one week later.*
  • Most callers felt their call helped them to manage their own level of distress and suicidal thoughts or feelings.
  • A week after calling Samaritans, seven out of ten callers said they were feeling better, and that their call had contributed to this.
  • Most callers said calling Samaritans helped them feel listened to and understood. Calling helped them see that they had options and they felt more able to make choices. It also gave people more hope for the future and made them feel like they could cope with everyday life. Some said it made them feel calmer and less lonely.
  • Almost all callers said they had the volunteer’s undivided attention and were treated with respect, dignity, care and compassion. They were confident conversations would remain confidential and felt able to talk openly to the volunteers about their feelings.

What sets our helpline apart from other services?

  • The majority of those who call Samaritans have also turned to other sources for support, such as their GP, mental health services or other charities. So, for most callers, Samaritans is one of several services they use to help them cope. But for more than one in ten callers, Samaritans is their only source of support.
  • Callers said the immediate availability of Samaritans’ service sets it apart from other services. The helpline gives them the chance to talk to someone straight away when they need it, even in the middle of the night. There are no waiting lists and they don’t have to wait to be called back. Callers also appreciate that there is no set time limit, so they can take the time they need to talk things through and they know they can call again if they need to.
  • Most callers found Samaritans’ approach to active listening helpful, especially the way Samaritans volunteers encourage callers to talk by asking open questions, without judging them or telling them what to do. This allows the caller to reflect and move forward with their own decisions and solutions.

The study has provided us with a wealth of new evidence about the positive impact of our helpline and the experience of callers. 

Getting a response from a real person and being given the time and space to talk things through helps people to find a way through their problems.

“With Samaritans, they make you feel like just at that moment, you’re the most important thing they’re dealing with.”

Samaritans caller

*Findings are based on the average of all callers’ self-reported level out of 10 during the call and one-week later.

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In the UK it has been decided that we are fully opening up society again on 19th July. This affects all of us at Central London Samaritans in the most positive of ways. It means that finally, after 17 months, we can welcome back our Face to Face callers back into the branch.

In normal times CLS alone welcomes around 4,500 callers who prefer to see us in person each year. We are open from 9am to 9pm every day of the year and people in distress can visit us when they need to, without an appointment. It has been very hard on some of our callers not to have been able to do this as they consider CLS a safe space in which to just be. As you know we listen without judgement, without giving advice and for many people just being able to sit and cry with gentle support means they can get through the day. 

As a branch we once again face the challenge of working out the logistics and creating spaces that we volunteers and our callers feel comfortable and safe in. We aim to use our larger rooms to give more space between us and obviously providing masks and sanitiser for those who want to use them. We will need to do some work on altering our rooms to be comfortable for all, this means we will have fewer rooms than normal but we feel that is necessary. We hope to have everything in place as soon as possible after 19th July. 

As always your donations give us the means to make these alterations and cope with the added expenses to get this most valuable service up and running again. Along side our 24/7 phoneline this service benefits so many in our local community and I know our callers will be delighted to have their safe space back. 

Thank you so much as always for your support 

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Organization Information

Central London Samaritans

Location: London - United Kingdom
Twitter: @CLSamaritans
Project Leader:
Caroline Fahy
London, United Kingdom
$38,967 raised of $45,000 goal
701 donations
$6,033 to go
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