Calls to Samaritans reach record high

Samaritans volunteers responded to more than 5.7 million calls for help in 2016, an increase of nearly 300,000 on the previous year.*

Releasing the figures to coincide with the start of Volunteers’ Week (1-7 June), the charity says there are a number of reasons for the record high, including making its confidential helpline free to callers.

Samaritans’ report, Dying from Inequality, published earlier this year, shows strong links between socioeconomic deprivation and suicidal behaviour. The charity launched its 116 123 free to call number in the autumn of 2015, supported by telecoms companies and the Big Lottery Fund.  It’s free to call from any phone, even a mobile with no credit, and the number doesn’t show up on phone bills.

Samaritans volunteers are based in more than 200 branches across the UK and Ireland.  As well as responding to calls, emails, text and letters, they talk to people face to face. They also offer emotional support everywhere from schools, workplaces, communities, festivals and events to prisons, hospitals, courts, custody suites, homeless shelters and food banks.

Volunteers also support the public, emergency services and others in communities facing serious trauma, for example the Croydon tram disaster, the Westminster attack and, more recently, the Manchester bombing.

David Ashton is a volunteer for Samaritans in Liverpool. “Life is tough and sadly there are all too many factors that can lead to people feeling overwhelmed. We’re trained to give people the time and space to work through even the most difficult thoughts and feelings. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, we’ll listen to what’s going on in your life. For me, that’s what makes the difference.’

Samaritans CEO Ruth Sutherland said: “Suicide is complex but it’s also an inequality issue, and a number of factors, including deprivation, can put you at increased risk. Even 2p a minute was enough to deter some callers, which is why we were determined to make all calls to Samaritans free. These figures show our volunteers are making the difference by being there for increasing numbers of people, but we’re just one part of the equation.

I’m calling on candidates from all parties in next week’s election to put suicide prevention high on the agenda if they are elected. Suicide is not inevitable, its preventable and everyone has a role to play, from politicians, parents and health workers to employers, businesses and the media. We need to empower those at risk to reach out for help, knowing the right resources and support will be in place when they do.”

Samaritans’ Dying from Inequality report calls for better emotional support for people facing job insecurity, poor housing and unmanageable debt. The charity has been working with partners like the rail industry to promote its free to call number in stations, hospitals, GP surgeries and on the sides of buses, through its We Listen campaign.

Samaritans Chair Jenni McCartney, who has been a volunteer for more than thirty years said: “I am proud of the way in which our volunteers are there for anyone who needs us, whatever they are going through.  Disadvantage can aggravate life’s challenges and make people more vulnerable to suicidal thoughts. If we all work together to address inequality, we will save lives.”

Samaritans is marking Volunteers’ Week with a series of events aimed at thanking everyone who gives their time for free to help achieve its mission, that fewer people die by suicide. It’s also asking the public to demand that prospective MPs make suicide prevention a priority.

For more information, photos and interviews with Samaritans volunteers, please contact or 020 8394 8300.

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Notes to editors:

  • * Source: Samaritans data platform; in 2016 there were 5,703830 calls for help received by Samaritans in the UK and Republic of Ireland; this figure includes helpline calls, emails, text messages and face to face support both inside and outside Samaritans’ branches. The equivalent figure for 2015 was 5,404,331.
  • Anyone can contact Samaritans. Whatever you’re going through, call us free any time from any phone on 116 123 (this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill), email, or visit to find details of your nearest branch.
  • Volunteers’ Week is an annual initiative from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and this year runs from 1-7 June 2017 with the theme, ‘You Make The Difference’. More information is available here:
  • Samaritans’ Dying from Inequality report is available here:
  • Find out more about Samaritans’ General Election campaign here: