One year on from the first UK lockdown Samaritans urges the Government to put suicide prevention at the heart of its coronavirus recovery strategy in order to future-proof the wellbeing of the nation.
Samaritans’ research reveals the profound impact of the pandemic on the nation’s mental health as the charity reports that over a fifth of the calls for help to Samaritans have referenced coronavirus in the past year, although Samaritans’ volunteers indicate that the pandemic has affected all callers in some way.*
Of these calls about coronavirus, people have been worried about access to mental health services and other practical implications of lockdown as well as the knock-on effects of the pandemic such as social isolation, relationship breakdown, loss of income and other financial worries.*
The charity’s latest figures also show that since social distancing restrictions began in March, Samaritans’ volunteers across the UK and Republic of Ireland have clocked up over 920,000 hours supporting those who are struggling to cope during the pandemic.
The economic impact of the pandemic has been a common concern in calls to Samaritans’ helpline from men, who have frequently talked about feelings of fear and uncertainty about the future, from losing their standard of living to fear of job loss and redundancy.
This fear became a reality for Samaritans’ listening volunteer, Steve, who was made redundant at the beginning of lockdown and has heard from a lot of men facing the same fate.
I lost the career I have spent the last 40 years developing and knowing that there is very little chance of getting it back as the industry has been so decimated is something I really struggled to come to terms with. I’ve heard from a lot of men in a similar position who for them this traditional viewpoint of being the breadwinner still exists and who speak of how useless they feel and this sense of being a failure for not being able to support their family. But I’m really thankful that I’ve had the support of my Samaritans’ branch and volunteering throughout this time has really given me a sense of purpose during the pandemic.
Steve, Samaritans Listening Volunteer
Employment has been affected in many ways by coronavirus, with millions experiencing job loss or a drop in income over the past year, which poses a real concern for middle-aged men, who are already at the greatest risk of suicide and are especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of financial insecurity.
As we start to look beyond lockdown, we are concerned about the long-term impact on mental health. The pressures from the pandemic are likely to continue for some time, particularly if we face the widely predicted economic downturn, which we know can impact suicide rates. We must strengthen our efforts on suicide prevention, embed it across all areas of policy and create practical initiatives that seek to support vulnerable individuals at every opportunity – whether that is training frontline staff in Job Centres on suicide awareness or by creating specific schemes that provide financial security to those facing loss of income or job loss in the wake of the pandemic.
Samaritans Assistant Director of Research and Influencing, Jacqui Morrissey
Whilst the challenges from coronavirus have been felt by all, research from across the sector has shown there has been a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable in society.
Samaritans’ research has shown that young people are one of the key groups that have been adversely affected by the pandemic and social distancing restrictions. Lack of peer contact, loss of coping mechanisms and uncertainty about the future have been just some of the issues raised by young people calling Samaritans’ helpline during the past year.
Jacqui Morrissey added: “Much more needs to be done to support young people if we are to future-proof their mental health and prevent them from carrying a higher suicide risk into their adult lives. But this requires systemic change to ensure barriers to support are removed and that those who self-harm stop falling through the gaps in the support services.
“Suicide is not inevitable, it is preventable, but we have to ensure the right support is available to these groups most at risk of suicide before they reach crisis point – which includes supporting the third sector so it can continue to play an integral role with community-led services and support for vulnerable groups.”
Despite seeing a 30% reduction in volunteer workforce at the start of the first lockdown due to shielding restrictions, Samaritans has maintained a 24/7 service throughout the pandemic as a result of the incredible efforts and dedication of Samaritans’ volunteers.
To find out more about Samaritans’ response to the pandemic, visit www.samaritans.org.
* Volunteer insights are based on 6 surveys with Samaritans listening volunteers carried out between April 2020 and January 2021. Findings of the surveys cover the period of first nine months of the coronavirus restrictions (March – December 2020).