Every day in the UK an average of 16 people take their own life. That’s close to 6,000 a year. This happens in one of the most technologically and economically developed countries on earth. This statistic, at a wider level is an indictment of how we view progress, indeed can we claim success as a society when people are finding life so unbearable that they end their own life? Can we claim success when suicide is the leading cause of death among men under the age of 49 and all young people under the age of 35 years?
At a narrower level, it also highlights that whatever we have in place currently, is not enough. Mental health professionals agree that face-to-face, ongoing support is needed to prevent suicides. Unfortunately, the NHS and existing suicide charities are not positioned to provide this type of support sufficiently. The Listening Place set itself the objective of reducing the number of people taking their own life. We did this by creating a service based on those critical gaps in current provision – a free, confidential, ongoing and face-to-face service.
In 2015, we were open two days a week; this year we are open 9am to 9pm seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, with 400+ trained volunteers regularly supporting over 1,000 suicidal Londoners each year. Sustained support is given by the same well-trained volunteer, supported by mental health professionals, over a series of appointments. We recently passed our 3000th referral. On the one hand supporting so many people can be seen as a success for our charity, on the other, it remains a concern for society as a whole – the more referrals we receive, the more it is obvious that people are struggling
This is why Mental Health Awareness Week (taking place from 13-19 May) is important. Not only to demonstrate that as a society we understand the issue but so we can also appreciate the distance we still have to travel to make any sort of difference. Given the increased coverage of mental health, there is a temptation to think that we are winning the battle. Complacency at this point will cost lives. Huge challenges remain. We need to break down the barriers which prevent people from accessing mental health services, ensure that those who engage stay engaged and ensure that mental health is properly funded at a national level.
At an individual level, our model of support is incredibly simple. We listen. We listen attentively, without distraction or interruption and try to appreciate the immense pain that many of our Visitors are experiencing. It is honestly remarkable how effective this has proved in reducing people’s suicidality. Reading through comments from our Visitors, you begin to appreciate how valuable feeling listened to can be and how utterly damaging being left unheard is.
This week, though we cannot individually achieve what The Listening Place does with 400 volunteers, we can perhaps each become a little better at listening. Giving people your full attention demonstrates respect. It shows that you see their problem as important enough to give your time. And yet, in a solution-driven world with increasing distractions, we are becoming less effective at doing this. During this week, if the situation presents itself, before offering a solution or turning to your phone, just listen to what that person is saying to you. Listen and try to appreciate what they are feeling. It sounds simple but its perhaps one of the most effective forms of support you can provide.