World Mental Health Day and why support for Samaritans has never been so vital

This October 10 is World Mental Health Day. It’s a date that always resonates strongly with me, and this year I’ve thought a lot about those whose lives have been impacted so greatly by the events of 2020.

By Chris Knight, CEO of Legal & General Retail Retirement

In Legal & General Retail Retirement we often talk about the importance of connection, and we put this into action. I am proud of the initiatives we run to help our older customers who are feeling lonely or vulnerable, such as our partnerships with Royal Voluntary Service, Alzheimer’s Society and Samaritans. Events this year have further proved how vital a connected society is for people’s mental health.

I’ve considered what we’ve learned this year and how, together, we can work to make our world a safe and supportive place. I hope that sharing my experience as a CEO and former Samaritans volunteer can bring people together and raise awareness of mental health issues. Perhaps I could even inspire you to become part of Samaritans’ movement.

Demand for Samaritans’ services was high long before the outbreak of coronavirus and people continue to need the support of the charity’s trained volunteers. Today that need is even greater: Covid-19’s impact on callers’ lives is mentioned in almost every contact and a quarter of calls for help are about coronavirus.

It was the death of a family friend that triggered my decision to become a Samaritan. Outwardly, he was a city professional – a happy, content family man. But he began to think his family’s lives would be better without him. Soon afterwards I decided to sign up with my local Samaritans branch.

The induction itself was an incredible experience, the most intensive training I’ve had since leaving university. I learned to listen objectively, to allow people to open up about the issues in their lives, and this had a profound effect on me. 

Samaritans are extremely supportive to volunteers and taking your first call is daunting. But although you’re essentially 1-1 with a caller who could come from any walk of life, from anywhere in the country, you never face it alone. I learned about how tough life is for the unemployed and those on low incomes, as well as challenges in the NHS. I heard first-hand about the effects that poor housing and crime could have on people. As I listened to people’s stories it wasn’t the vulnerability of callers that struck me, but their resilience.

We don’t yet know the effect of coronavirus on suicide rates. But the pandemic has hit some people extremely hard financially, and we do know that unemployed people are two to three times more likely to die by suicide than those in employment. Suicide rates increase with higher levels of economic deprivation.

But suicide isn’t inevitable – and we have a chance to stop it.

Samaritans is working hard to ensure they can still be there, around the clock, for anyone struggling to cope – and has ambitious plans such as a new online chat service and remote volunteering models. They also work with big companies. I’m proud that, at Legal & General, Samaritans provide a valuable service, giving bereavement training to our customer teams.

Today, more than ever, it is vital we all support Samaritans and help them continue to be there for the millions of people who need them. Find out how you can help: https://www.samaritans.org/support-us/

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