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Guest Blog: Suicide Prevention Day

The Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector is essential in delivering early intervention and preventative support services to prevent mental health crises and suicides. The Government has found that “the suicide prevention VCSE sector saw an increase in the number of individuals seeking support – with some services seeing up to 20% more contacts over the last year, compared to previous years.” Suicide prevention charities work tirelessly to support individuals with their mental health and wellbeing as invaluable partners to the NHS. This Suicide Prevention Day, we are pleased to have a guest blog written by Julie Bentley, Chief Executive Officer of Samaritans, to discuss the importance of Samaritans’ services and the wider VCSE sector in delivering life-saving support.

– Julie Bentley, Chief Executive Officer, Samaritans

At Samaritans, we use the power of listening to spark meaningful human connection and encourage others to do the same. Last year, there wasn’t a single second when our incredible volunteers weren’t on the phone to someone. Day and night, Samaritans were there for people when they needed us most.

Since answering our first call in 1953, Samaritans has been there for people during their darkest times and we are needed now more than ever. As we mark this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day, we know that the cost-of-living crisis means many people are finding it much harder to make ends meet, for many it is simply proving impossible. We’ve seen an increase in first-time calls for help from people in distress about their financial worries, and our volunteers currently answer over 400 calls for help a day, on average, from people who are worried about their finances or unemployment. Given the established links between financial hardship and suicide risk, it’s crucial that when people seek help with financial problems that they are also offered help with their mental health, and vice versa.

While Samaritans is most well-known for our helpline, we’re not just there for moments of crisis, we take action to prevent the crisis. We work directly with people in emotional distress in prisons and in community settings, we provide training in workplaces across the country, we work locally to increase safety in high risk locations, we work with the media to ensure that suicide is reported responsibly, we host coalitions of civil society, statutory organisations and the private sector working to reduce suicide, we publish ground-breaking industry guidance on how different sectors can contribute towards preventing suicide, and we campaign for change.

Like all Association of Mental Health Providers’ members, we are a crucial part of the suicide prevention ecosystem, working in tandem with statutory providers.  Samaritans is one of the most signposted organisations in the country. The fact that we provide support around the clock, makes a significant contribution to alleviating pressures across the whole health and social care system.

We know that callers who use NHS mental health services are more likely to explore and express suicidal feelings in their calls to us than other callers, they are twice as likely to talk about self-harm in their calls and more likely to contact us at night – when many NHS mental health services are closed or unable to respond, and when statutory provision has ended but support is still needed. We also know that many of our callers are on waiting lists for mental health support.

Of course, Samaritans is not immune to the effects of the challenging economy either. We have seen our income decrease and our costs rise we have had to make tough decisions about how to reduce our costs. We, like many other not for profit service providers need support to ensure that we can continue to be here for everyone who needs us. Charities play a crucial role in helping to prevent suicide and we will continue to work with our colleagues across the voluntary and community sector to ensure that the role our organisations play in reducing suicide is being recognised and resourced appropriately.

Tragically, the suicide rate in England now is the same as it was 20 years ago. Yet we know suicide is preventable. The Government is due to publish the next suicide prevention strategy for England any day now – it’s crucial the strategy underpins a whole-government approach to suicide prevention, where people get the support they need at the right time and in the right way, where the huge inequalities in suicide risk are ameliorated with people among the most deprived 10% of society more than twice as likely to die by suicide than the least deprived and where there is sufficient investment to drive a bold approach that makes a real difference.