Let’s make 2018 the year we really connect
Samaritans CEO Ruth Sutherland calls on us all to make simple human connection a priority
January is a good time to think about what you want to achieve in the next twelve months, and I would like to put looking out for each other at the top of the agenda.
Samaritans’ latest campaign, Brew Monday, which aims to take the Blue out of the day often referred to as one of the most difficult in the calendar, might seem relatively light-hearted at first glance.
You could be forgiven for thinking it is just celebrities taking tea and encouraging others to get together for a chat, rather than surrendering to the gloom of Blue Monday.
Dig a bit deeper and it’s all about connection – reaching out to others rather than holding back. It works because, for most people, we thrive in social groups, and simple steps are less daunting.
These are all every day, routine things that we do, such as making someone a hot drink, or saying hello to the person standing next to us on the station platform.
In 2017, we started the ball rolling with Small Talk Saves Lives, which showed the difference starting a conversation can make to someone thinking of taking their own life.
The positive feedback we have had about the campaign makes me think there is scope for taking it further and making it part of the national conversation.
One of Samaritans’ main aims is to encourage people to seek help before they reach a crisis and for everyone to understand that suicidal thoughts are often temporary – they can be interrupted.
Not that our volunteers are running out of people to support. We responded to 5.7m calls for help in 2016. Human connection and the benefits we get from it can help make us more resilient when there is a crisis, as well as being a safety net when we face difficult times. Just being with someone in crisis is a great support.
Learning emotional literacy is as important as learning to read and write, and the earlier in life we start the better.
Raising a generation schooled in seeking and giving support around life’s challenges is a fine aim. Samaritans already does work in secondary schools but the time has come for a wider conversation.
Don’t just take my word for it, let’s look at the evidence. One of the main reasons people contact Samaritans is because of loneliness and isolation, closely followed by relationship breakdown. Reaching out can be daunting for lots of reasons, but we could do a lot to take the fear out of it.
Our connection with other people – and theirs with us - makes us stronger. When the chips are down, ideally we have people around us who care, in whom we can confide and get support. That’s the serious message at the heart of Brew Monday – the support we get and give makes us more resilient when bad times come along, and that needs to be nurtured.
In becoming a more accepting and open society, we all win. We gain in empathy by learning about other people and their problems and when our life takes a difficult turn, we know it makes sense to reach out for help.
People need people, they will never stop needing them and listening and giving each other time is one thing we can resolve to do in 2018 that makes a big difference.
A cup of tea and a chat is a first step.