Suicide, the act of ending one’s life, is a public health problem in many countries around the world and one of the prominent causes of death. The effects of suicide are felt beyond the person who commits the act as family, friends and the community are left to grapple with the pain and sorrow afterwards.  

In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans is a charity organisation that keeps track of suicide statistics and regularly publishes them in an annual report. The data helps to track the numbers and assist professionals and communities in understanding and preventing suicide. Samaritans has a team that works to provide emotional support to people at risk of suicide or struggling to cope with emotional distress.  

While it’s not a religious organisation, Samaritans was established in 1953 by Chad Varah, a vicar who – while counselling parish members – felt the urge to do more to help those at risk of suicide. He took the first phone call on 2nd November 1953, officially celebrated as the organisation’s anniversary, and at the time he regarded his work as simple service to the people. 

The vicar’s inspiration for a suicide helpline came from an earlier experience in his life when he took a funeral for a young girl who committed suicide. It spurred him to do something, and the movement started there. Mr. Varah knew that for the service to work, people had to know about it. So, he reached out to his contacts at national newspapers and soon enough, calls came in from individuals seeking support and volunteers wanting to help provide it. 

From there, the organisation grew rapidly. Within a decade, 40 branches had been opened, and over time it crossed borders across the UK and Ireland. The charity now has over 200 branches and over 20,000 volunteers, with a 24-hour listening service that responds to calls for help every six seconds. By 2017, Samaritans’ work in local communities reached more than half a million people in communities, prisons, schools and hospitals. 

The charity’s mission is to make sure there’s someone on the other end of the line for anyone who needs help. With the advancement of technology, text messaging and email options are also available to those who reach out. Samaritans is also aware of the need to provide people with the skills to cope and ensure that suicide prevention is a priority at the local and national levels. The latter is implemented through media campaigns put together by advertising professionals such as Ajab Samrai, a chief creative officer with more than three decades of experience in the global advertising industry.  

Five core values drive the charity’s work: confidentiality, human contact, listening, no judgement, and giving people the freedom to make their own decisions.  

Policy and Research 

A vital aspect of Samaritans’ work is to collaborate with governments in the UK and Ireland to find ways of reducing suicide. Every nation has a strategy for this, with Samaritans coming in to ensure the plans are effective. At the local level, the organisation is confident that good progress has been made, so that almost all local areas in England have suicide prevention plans that Samaritans has looked through. 

After analysing the local suicide prevention plans, an exercise performed jointly with the University of Exeter, Samaritans has found that many local authorities have made a good start on prevention planning, but the focus needs to shift to ensure that the identified actions are delivered effectively. At the national level, the organisation encourages policymakers to implement a host of measures, including setting ambitious targets, providing resources and support, prioritising suicide prevention, and allocating funding for the identified prevention interventions.