Poster Campaign Working – But More Needs To Be Done
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A scheme to stop suicides is concluding: Poster Campaign Working – But More Needs To Be Done. Winchester Today’s Deputy Editor William Brougham reports that leading charities across Winchester are backing a poster campign aimed at preventing suicide but tell him more needs to be done to tackle the problem, saying the poster campaign is working – but that more needs to be done.
You may have seen the posters in question which have gone up on the walls on the platforms at the southern end of Winchester railway station.
The ‘We’re In Your Corner’ project was launched as part of a partnership between the Samaritans and Network Rail to prevent male suicide on our railways.
The posters target middle-aged men who the Samaritans says are most at risk of taking their lives.
The charity’s national Head of Communications, Chantel Scherer, says that while her organisation does not take down the age of people who contact them, they do note their gender: “We have had three thousand more men ring us in the first quarter of this year than we did this time last year.
“We would like to believe that the campaign is playing a part in that and that more men are seeing our posters.”
Poster Campaign “Working – But More Needs To Be Done”. People are reluctant to make phone calls
But the Chairman of the Hampshire-based charity Sebastian’s Bereavement Support Services, Paul Burrows-Gibson, told Winchester Today that the campaign should go further: “I feel strongly that there needs to be a more aggressive approach to suicide prevention.
“One of our projects is to create an advice and information centre where people can physically visit and speak in person to trained counsellors. People seem to be reluctant to make phone calls to help lines.”
However, the Director of Winchester and District Samaritans, Grant Wakefield-Smith, says that phoning his charity is not the only option. People can email or text and even visit the Winchester branch in person: “I think face to face contact makes you feel less alone because you’re actually with someone and so the Winchester branch is open from 9.30 every morning to 10pm every night 365 days a year.”
He says his branch has been trying other methods to encourage people to seek help and have contacted the Hampshire Law Society for instance to try and encourage it to get its members to direct clients to the Samaritans for emotional support.
The charity says 80 per cent of suicides on our railways are by men with those in the 30-55 age bracket from disadvantaged backgrounds being the most at risk.
Men are three times more likely to take their own lives
But Grant Wakefield-Smith says that the city’s Samaritans branch is still receiving twice as many calls from women even though the number of men contacting them has gone up by six per cent in the past two years.
He puts this disparity down to his belief that woman find it easier to discuss their problems and seek help than men: “We’ve still got that masculinity aspect that we are trying to overcome.
“There is still quite a divide between the number of men and women who contact us especially when men are three times more likely to take their own lives than women.”
The We’re In Your Corner campaign is the second phase of the Samaritans five-year partnership with Network Rail which started in 2010.
The two organisations hope to achieve a twenty per cent reduction in railway suicides by 2015 which they admit will be challenging, as the poor financial climate is having a negative effect on the lives of middle-aged working class men.
The Chief Executive of the Winchester District Citizens Advice bureau, Jenny Meadows, says that her organisation has seen a number of middle aged men contact it but that the city’s affluence compared to other parts of the United Kingdom can be a double edged sword: “We’ve always had middle aged men, particularly those that are homeless, for all sorts of reasons in Winchester because it’s so difficult to find accommodation that’s affordable.”
She adds that unless they are considered vulnerable or have some sort of disability they are not treated as a priority for housing so they have to find their own accommodation which in Winchester is perhaps more difficult than elsewhere. Jenny Meadows says both the CAB and Samaritans have a very close relationship and refer clients to each other’s organisations.
She says the Citizens Advice Bureau has been successful in applying for a lottery advice transition fund which means the organisation will receive £202,000 over two years working with nine other agencies including the Trinity Centre and Age UK Winchester to form the Winchester Advice Partnership.
Jenny says this will help the organisations which form the partnership work even more effectively in helping people get the support they need.
But this year is the first time the Citizens Advice Bureau has seen benefit enquiries outstrip debt enquiries which Jenny puts down largely to welfare reform.
The national Head of Communications at the Samaritans, Chantel Scherer, says that in 2008 when the recession started one in ten male and female callers were phoning about financial problems but this year it has been one in six.
Grant Wakefield-Smith from Winchester Samaritans says that while middle-aged men from poorer social economic backgrounds may be at higher risk of taking their lives, people from more affluent backgrounds can also suffer from problems such as being made redundant and the stress of this can cause other problems such as the breakdown in relationships.
The most recent Samaritans survey found that 45 per cent of men and women surveyed in the south east had financial worries which is less than the national average but he says many of them do not seek help for their problems: “The thing is we grin and bear it until something else comes along and it is never usually one thing that triggers suicidal feelings.”
Paul Burrows-Gibson from Sebastian’s Bereavement Support Services says he would like to see campaigns focus on a wider section of the community: “It’s not just middle aged men who are taking their own lives, there are lots of people taking their own lives from all age ranges and any campaigns at stations need to reflect all ages.”
But the Samaritans Head of Communications, Chantel Scherer, urges anyone who may be in crisis to get in contact: “We are not just for people who are suicidal. In fact we want to reach people before they get to that point.”
The charity depends on public donations rather than government funding and Grant Wakefield-Smith says that the recession means raising money for the charity is not the only aspect that is more important than ever: “It can make it harder to fundraise but also if people are volunteering as a counsellor they need to be a in a good place in order to provide emotional support to other people; it’s not just about taking a strong fundraising perspective but also taking into account a volunteer perspective.”
On Sunday 14 July Winchester and District Samaritans hosts its annual dragon boat race on the Navigation Canal at Garnier Road where people can find out more about the charity, volunteering and help raise funds.
Chantel Scherer says the charity will spend this summer trying to get a better understanding of why men take their own lives and how it can improve the ways it can reach out to them.
Samaritans: 08457 90 90 90
Sebastian’s Bereavement Services: 07889009393
Winchester District Citizens Advice Bureau: 01962 848000