Actor, writer and bipolar sufferer Stephen Fry spoke for the first time publicly this week of his 2012 suicide attempt while filming abroad.
The chief challenge facing Samaritans – of whom Fry is a patron – is the rise in suicides among middle-aged men, with males three times more likely than women to take their own life.
Director of Samaritans’ Manchester branch, Maureen Mundey, stated that men between the age of 25 and 50 are most at risk, resulting in an increase in male callers.
“We are really targeting trying to help men,” she said.
“It used to be younger men, but unfortunately, possibly with the economic climate, the suicide rate among men between 25 and 50 is increasing quite significantly – Manchester certainly has its challenges there.
“Since 2007 it’s increased quite significantly and we are currently part of a project with Network Rail to reduce suicides on the railway, working with rail staff to spot people who may be considering taking their lives.
“We used to have approximately half the number of men contacting us as women each month, but those figures are getting much closer together.”
The British suicide rate is at its highest since 2004, with men aged 30-44 accounting for 23.5 deaths per 100,000 – the demographic most at risk.
However, Samaritans were surprised to receive more male callers than female ones for the first time in January, and Ms Mundey believes men are becoming increasingly willing to express their feelings.
“Part of me thinks men are getting the message that they can be more open with their feelings,” said Ms Mundey.
“I think the climate is changing and with the economic situation it’s ok to admit you have these problems because you can see others around you facing similar situations.
“Also with the publicity from us and the Campaign Against Living Miserably, which are targeting men in particular, it’s becoming more politically correct for men to say they are not coping.”
On average, around 3,000 middle-aged men take their life each year, and the Samaritans campaign ‘We’re in your corner’ is dedicated to encouraging males to seek help.
Ms Mundey stressed that Samaritans cannot prevent callers from committing suicide, as it is a personal choice, but hope that being there 24/7 to provide a listening ear without judging may help someone through a crisis.
“We never offer any guarantees that we will stop you committing suicide and we certainly won’t talk you out of it,” she said.
“Our vision is that fewer people think about dying by suicide because they’ve got somebody to listen to them and their feelings, and that’s why it’s so important.
“Being there for someone who feels isolated and alone is a privilege, even if they are thinking of taking their life.
“It can be hard to hear but we are trained deal with these situations and Samaritans support each other very well.”
National statistics from the past year have shown one in six calls made to Samaritans are about financial stress, with many citing housing and rent problems.
While admitting that economic difficulties are an increasing problem, Rachel Kirby-Rider, Samaritans Fundraising and Communications Executive Director, insisted issues of depression are multifaceted.
“Although we know that worries about money or the threat of losing a home can cause stress and depression, it’s also important to understand that suicide is complex,” she said.
“It’s seldom the result of a single factor and likely to have several inter-related causes.”
Men from low socio-economic backgrounds, living in deprived areas, are ten times more likely to die by suicide than those living in the most affluent areas.
Manchester Samaritans have started to work closely with Greater Manchester police, with pilot schemes in two of their custody suites – in Bury and Longsight.
Anyone spending more than a night in custody over the weekend is offered an interview with a Samaritans volunteer – while regular visits to Forest Bank prison and Manchester HMP are made.
Ms Mundey expressed her delight at the success of the project, which helps those at their lowest ebb, and explores the options available to them.
“We’ve had some very, very significant interviews with people who would never think of calling Samaritans, and some really deep heart-to-heart discussions,” said Ms Mundey.
“Some are living quite chaotic lives, with very difficult family relationships, leading them to boil over, make unwise decisions and end up in custody.
“We are not there to judge them – just to help them explore their feelings in confidence.”
Samaritans receive a call roughly every eight seconds across their 201 branches in the UK, manned by just over 20,000 volunteers, and sourcing funding is a constant battle.
And with the Manchester branch costing around £52,000 a year to run, Ms Mundey admitted finding financial support was fundamental to the centre’s security.
“It is a huge pressure getting enough funding, and about four years ago we were about to go under in Manchester,” she said.
“But a lot of very bright volunteers negotiated the lease for the fast food shop below us, which gives us about two thirds of the money we need.
“We did have a grant from Manchester city council every year that almost plugged the rest of the gap, with legacies and fund-raising filling the rest.
“Unfortunately this year Manchester council have had to make some very difficult decisions and we weren’t able to fit their funding profiles.
“But we’ve just been very fortunate in getting a trust fund to make an award to us this year, which gives us some breathing space.”
Ms Mundey, in her eleventh year as a Samaritan, paid tribute to the loyal band of unpaid volunteers that give up their time to listen to others.
“Being a volunteer in the Manchester branch, and in branches all over the country, is extremely difficult, upsetting sometimes but fantastically rewarding,” she said.
“The volunteers are absolutely amazing and so dedicated and so faithful, it’s just a wonderful organisation to be part of.
“Whatever you come to put in, you will get out twenty-fold, knowing that you've been there for someone in need.
“And you make great friends – Samaritans are a lovely group of people as you can imagine”
Samaritans volunteers continue to dedicate themselves to listening to those in need, 60 years on from when founder Dr Chad Varah took the first call in 1953.
“Our work is supporting and listening to people who have some kind of anxieties, worries or concerns,” she said.
“Maybe they have mental health problems, relationship problems, money worries and they just need an ear really.
“They need somebody to talk to – it’s a very simple thing we do, but we do a lot of training for it.
“We truly listen to people.”
If something is troubling you, Samaritans are available 24 hours a day via telephone (08457 90 90 90) email (Jo@samaritans.org) and letter (Freepost RSRB-KKBY-CYJK, Chris, PO Box 90 90, Stirling, FK8 2SA).
Image courtesy if bigthink, via YouTube, with thanks.