The number of suicides in Doncaster is increasing - and now the organisation which helps out those in despair in their hour of need has issued an urgent appeal in a bid to help stem the rise.
The Doncaster branch of the Samaritans has made the call following the release of new figures which show that the Yorkshire and Humber region is now the fourth highest in the UK for people taking their own lives.
There were 502 suicides across our region in 2013 - the latest set of figures which have just been made available - and the male suicide rate was the highest since 2001, with only Wales and the North East seeing more people ending it all.
The economic downturn is being blamed for the increase and now the organisation, which fielded more than 16,000 calls for help in Doncaster alone last year, is asking for more people to join the organisation - a move which might just save someone’s life.
According to the Diretor of Public Health Report for 2014, Doncaster is near the national average for the number of suicides - but economic depravation and social issues have all helped to contribute to the total.
Paul Barnard is one such volunteer. And he has spent several years taking phone calls from those in distress, simply looking for someone to talk to, someone who will listen to their problems, someone who will lend an ear when it is most needed.
He said: “People think the Samaritans is all about suicidal people phoning up. It is not like that at all.
“The majority of calls are not from people contemplating suicide. They tend to be from people who are struggling to cope, are in distress or despair and need that shoulder to cry on.
“Many people don’t have someone to talk to and that’s where we come in.”
The Doncaster branch, based at 36 Thorne Road, is one of the longest-established branches in the nationwide Samaritans network with nearly 50 volunteers on hand to listen to the callers on the end of the line 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
“What might not seem a big issue to someone else might be one of the most upsetting things in the world to one of our callers,” said Paul. “There’s no such thing as a typical call. “It can be a child, an elderly person, from any background. We take calls from very senior professionals in very big positions in public life to people with no job or education. It doesn’t matter who you are or what the problem is, we are there to help.”
Last year, 16,573 calls for help were answered in Doncaster while nationwide, 21,000 volunteers answered a staggering 5.3 million calls - the highest total ever.
Branch director Tim Harrington said: “We know that people who are struggling benefit from having a real person to connect with, someone who is trained to listen to them.
“Samaritans wouldn’t exist without the dedication of our volunteers. As well as listening on the helpline, there are lots of ways people can get involved with Samaritans.”
Indeed, the organisation has many behind the scenes workers - not just those answering the phones.
Added Paul: “We need support volunteers as much as listeners. There are people who don’t think they’d be able to sit there and listen to people calling up. Well, they don’t have to. There are a myriad of ways they can help with admin and support.”
In recent years, demand for the service has increased and since 2006 the number of callers to the Doncaster branch has shown a marked increase, with the figures the highest since 2004.
“The reality is, we could answer more,” said Paul. “The problem is people don’t talk or think about suicide on a day to day basis. There is a stigma attached to it still, particularly in men who are very often afraid to express their feelings.”
He added: “Most men think the idea of helping is to say to their mate ‘come on, have a pint, cheer up, pull yourself together.’ It is those kind of people we are reaching out to.”
Often, the best form of prevention is talking - with people calling up from everything from struggling to cope financially, losing their jobs, grieving and even the loss of a pet.
“The people who don’t talk are the ones who are at risk,” said Paul. “Telling someone your feelings when you feel there is no-one to speak to is absolutely critical.”
The service is completely free and completely confidential - callers can phone the Samaritans and talk about any issue that’s troubling them - without fear of the information being passed on to other parties. “People need that security,” added Paul. “They need to know that what they are saying won’t go any further so people feel they can really open up to us.”
One of the most common factors in calls is that people often don’t have anyone else to talk to. Social isolation lies behind many of the calls and volunteers are urged to explore how callers are feeling and delve into their deepest feelings.
“We don’t provide advice, we leave it to the caller to find their own way,” added Paul. “The person on the end of the phone is the only one who can control their own destiny. If you have a problem, often you are the only one who knows the answer to that problem but we are there to help them find it.
“At the end of the day, if we can make people feel better and more able to discuss their problems by the end of a phone call, then we have done a good job,” he said.
The Samaritans was founded in 1953 by London vicar Chad Varah who placed an advert in a local newspaper seeking volunteers to listen to people contemplating suicide.
The organisation spread rapidly and there are now more than 200 branches across the UK
The “Samaritans” name came from a Daily Mirror article about Varah’s work - and comes from the Biblical parable The Good Samaritan.
More than 5.3 million calls were answered last year - the highest ever.
The helpline number is 08457 90 90 90 and is open 24 hours a day. People can also email email@example.com for help
For more details about volunteering, contact the branch on 07837 391698 or email firstname.lastname@example.org