Kay talks about how reaching out to Samaritans led to her becoming a volunteer herself, and why she’s passionate about equity, diversity and inclusion at Samaritans.
Three years ago, Kay turned to Samaritans to vocalise some of the pain and anxiety she was experiencing, a call that inspired her to become a listening volunteer herself. Kay is passionate about reaching the Indian community in particular and smashing the stigma that exists around mental health.
The immediate relief I felt just from having someone just listen to what I was saying, made such a difference
"Being a Samaritan is by far my favourite way to spend my time. I do a shift every Friday night and sometimes pick up more in the week. There’s never been a shift in three years as a volunteer where I’ve thought – ‘I don’t want to go to Samaritans today’. You often wake up having a ‘Monday’ feeling, but with Samaritans I never do.
I’d describe Samaritans as empathetic, friendly, approachable – kind in a world that isn’t always kind. That’s how I found them as a caller."
Being non-judgemental was a key attraction to me and as a Samaritan, I want to highlight the fact that we are approachable to all minorities
"In 2018, I became very ill very quickly with sepsis. At the time it was undiagnosed, so I was admitted to hospital in a poorly way because the symptoms come on very quickly. If it isn’t recognised, you can die - it’s very serious. I’d actually gone to work in the morning, I was feeling fine but in the afternoon I passed out. Two weeks later when I was sitting up in hospital, it left me with a lot of anxiety.
When I finished the medication that the hospital had prescribed, it left me feeling extremely anxious. Could it happen again? What if I’m sitting on a train and I pass out and I don’t know? I didn’t know how to manage that anxiety. I went to the GP who was quite insistent that I took anti-depressants. Having just been on a plethora of medication following my sepsis recovery, I wasn’t keen on taking more medication. I also didn’t want the side effects that are sometimes associated with that medication – it can cloud your judgement for example and in my profession, I have to be clear headed. I was then referred to talking therapy – but the waiting list was six weeks long, which felt too far off. I needed immediate relief.
I couldn’t get on a wating list for therapy quickly – even privately I wasn’t able to access that. I was standing at the train station and saw the Samaritans sign. So I phoned straight away. It was powerful to have the pain that was in my head vocalised and then to an extent, gone. It was a placating and soothing experience."
The volunteer I spoke to didn’t advise, but was actively listening. And that’s what triggered me to think people need immediate relief and that’s a good thing that Samaritans can provide.
"I’m from the Indian community, which typically doesn’t talk about problems. I needed somewhere I could speak freely so I called Samaritans – it had a triggering effect for me to consider there might be other community members who feel the same and didn’t know where to go either. Three years ago, I decided that I would train to become a listening volunteer myself.
To actively listen, to be engaged and to listen with integrity is the most powerful thing. There’s a difference between listening to someone and making all the reassuring noises, and actually listening and adapting your thought process to the person that’s called in. As humans, we tend to want to problem fix – presented with a problem, we tend to want to find a solution. As a Samaritan, we don’t do that. In some respects, it’s harder to let the listener understand that you’re fully engaged in what they’re saying and not advise them.
Knowing that you’re having an impact on a stranger’s life, because they’ve been able to offload onto me, knowing that I could have been, perhaps, between them making a choice to save their life and the choice to end their life. That’s a precious gift.
That’s been my biggest lesson – learning how to actively listen and adapt my tone and measure words according to who I’m speaking to. One thing is crystal clear - every time I come off a shift, whatever is going on in my life, I’m always grateful for the person I’m speaking to. It gives me great perspective on life. Before I became a Samaritan I wouldn’t have ever thought about asking someone if they wanted to take their own life, but now I do and have the confidence to ask those tricky questions.
I initially kept it quiet that I was a Samaritan. I shared on my social media that I was a volunteer and began signposting community members and friends to the service. Throughout the outreach that I do to my community members, I realised that a lot of people in Asian communities don’t feel talking about mental health is a positive thing. There is a lot of fearfulness - people don’t like to talk in my community. There are set rules around gender for example, and generational expectations which often causes friction. There is still a stigma around mental health.
Before I came to Samaritans, I had a certain image of the volunteers and organisation – I thought it was typically white, middle class, retired people. But it’s key to highlight that we have a diverse range of volunteers and are approachable to all minorities. There’s definitely more to be done to expand on that. I’m going to be coming onto the Trustee board of our branch in June; expanding the diversity of working committees and in director positions is also key.
How Samaritans adapted so well to the virus highlighted the vital nature of the work we do. It made me feel extremely proud to be part of the organisation. Every other industry dropped tools as they had to. But branches kept open and we had the impetus moving forward to keep being there to support people.
Outside of volunteering I have a full time job in the legal field. I write a lot and I’m a theatre critic. I’m proactive in my health and mental health – I do lots of marathons and walking, which has a knock-on effect of being good for my body and my mind!
I’ve done Samarathon two years running and I’m doing it again this year. By doing that – I’ve been able to connect with other volunteers. Within our branch, there’s a lot of support. There’s an extremely cohesive feel to our branch and between volunteers.
I’d really like to go and do some outreach at a train station when we can – given it’s part of my own story too, I think it’s a key place to be to raise awareness.
We have a diverse range of volunteers and are approachable to all minorities."