Real lives, real stories

Torbay Weekly

I did my second live radio interview last Tuesday, still utterly out of my comfort zone, but much easier than the first time – at least in the build up – which allowed me to focus much more on the reason for doing it... to spread the word.

Samaritans have recently launched a campaign called ‘Real Lives, Real Stories’ that aims to reach men in rural communities, encourage them to seek support if they are struggling by demonstrating examples of lived’ experience and, as always, raise awareness about what we do.

A new survey, commissioned by us, reveals that men in rural areas are less likely than men in urban areas to reach out for support if they are struggling to cope before they reach crisis point.

The survey also confirms that rural and agricultural communities face unique challenges that can be risk factors for mental health concerns and suicide, like poor access to services, socio-economic factors, social isolation and persistent loneliness.

Whilst there is no direct evidence that Covid lockdowns have added to these issues in rural areas, we know that the pandemic has created challenges and struggles for many people over the past two years, and we are yet to determine its long-term impact.

Coupled with this, Samaritans discovered that the top three barriers to seeking help for men in rural areas are stigma around mental health, not knowing who to turn to and lack of awareness of support available.

That’s why the Real Lives, Real Stories was launched, but to do it justice, we wanted to highlight real cases where men could show, in their own words, how they have overcome their problems.

That’s also why, on Monday evening, whilst waiting in Lidl car park for an elusive gap in the downpour that never came, proud of myself for remembering both a pound coin and enough bags – it's the little things – I received a call from Lucy at Radio Devon asking me if I’d do a live interview the following morning.

Now, I am far more comfortable writing a newspaper column than listening to the sound of my own voice, but when I agreed to this role, I knew that there was an opportunity to become a local spokesperson. Similar to the ‘give a person a fish/ teach them to fish’ analogy, we can hand out an information flyer or tell a 100,000 strong radio audience where to find help. In reality, of course, it’s very good to do both.

The interview started quite well, with me answering questions about the Real Lives, Real Stories campaign, I was able to say a bit more detail about why it’s happening and relate that to the nature of our service all of the time.

Later in the interview I was asked a couple of questions that made me audibly squirm a bit. Most notably, “who do you speak to when you need to”. Of course, it’s a valid question, but not one that I was expecting and it highlights the different role that I’ve taken on.

You see, when we put on our Samaritans hat and take calls, we don’t talk about ourselves because it’s not about us. We focus on the caller and on delivering a consistent service to them. This wouldn’t work if a person called one day and heard all about the life experiences of a volunteer – even if that was a positive conversation – then the following week they called and expected the same, but they got someone with no experience of their particular situation.

The irony of my apparent difficulty in saying who I would speak to wasn’t lost on me, but now with a little more media experience, I’ll be ready for that question the next time. The fact is that I’m very fortunate to have the support structure of the Samaritans Branch that I have the privilege to lead.

If you, or someone you know needs to talk, we are here to listen.  Call free on 116123 anytime, alternatively you can email: jo@samaritans.org.  If you’re interested in Volunteering with us or you would like to donate go to:  https://www.samaritans.org/branches/torquay  Here you’ll also find more detail and those ‘Real Stories’ for the campaign mentioned above.

Dean Sanders
Branch Director
South Devon Samaritans

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