Disclaimer: This post involves a conversation about suicide, suicidal ideation, and suicidal thoughts and actions.
Around 3am, my knees hugged tight to my chest, the small of my back pressing against the frame of my bed, I stared at the number I had just dialled into my phone. My fingers trembled over the green call button. I willed myself to press call. My breath was caught in my chest as though my lungs were being crushed by my ribs. I pressed the call button. The dialling tone rang in my ear, daring me to hang up, but before my nerves got the better of me, the call connected.
Hello, you’re through to Samaritans. How can I help?
This is my experience with the Samaritans helpline.
While the number of completed suicides has generally decreased, there are still increases within the male demographic and across different cultures and countries. Samaritans launched their freephone helpline in 2015. Over 5.7 million people called Samaritans within a year. This number has been increasing steadily throughout the years. People are reaching out for support more and more, but there remains a stigma, and a genuine fear around calling a suicide helpline.
For me, the fear and anxiety lay around: I am going to have to admit that I am seriously struggling; struggling so much that I want to end my life. You don’t want to be that person who calls a suicide helpline. It makes you feel nuts and helpless. But, I was helpless and I was feeling completely out of my mind.
I was at a point in my life where my mental health was so bad, and I was so, so alone that I felt the only way for the suffering to stop was to kill myself. To make it all go away by making myself go away. Essentially. I couldn’t breathe for suicidal ideation.
However, there was something in me trying to swim to the surface to save me. And that’s when I googled the number for Samaritans.
When the call connected, a soft and polite female voice greeted me. I don’t know what I was expecting exactly when I rang. But, I didn’t expect to connect automatically. I mean, there was nothing else it was going to do. Did I think it was going to take me to a menu? Press 1 if you want to kill yourself now. Press 2 if you don’t know if you want to kill yourself. Did I think I was going to be put on a waiting list? You are number 7 in the queue; please hold if you want to talk about the fact you are very suicidal and thinking of the ways you end it. Nope, it connected pretty much automatically.
This jarred me. I had built up all this courage to phone and, within a few minutes, I was faced with it. On the other side was someone who was waiting to hear about my suicidal thoughts. I didn’t know what to do. What could I say?
I had run the word suicide through my mind several times so much so that it was just another word. However, thinking a word and saying a word can carry very different weights. Additionally, saying a word out loud to yourself and saying a word out loud to someone also carry very different weights. The fact I hadn’t said it out loud either to myself or to anyone else… that rested very heavily upon me the second the phone call connected. For many, this is the first time they discuss their suicidal thoughts and feelings. Connecting straight to an operator, therefore, can be extremely surprising.
However, while it frightened me, it didn’t give me the option to hang up. If there was an exceedingly long time to wait, you’d probably have a lot of people overthinking their decision to phone and soon hanging up the call. You can’t ‘run’ if the call connects straight to an operator. You have to face the suicidal thoughts head on. I had to speak about it. This was the moment I had chose to speak out against my suicidal thoughts. Sure, you can hang up if the call connects and you really don’t want to talk about it, but, for me, it created a sense of: you can do it now or you can continue to let the suicidal thoughts torment you. So, I stayed on the call and spoke about the fact I was considering killing myself.
It wasn’t until I did an elective class in clinical psychology when I was in my fourth year of university that I learned about the power of silence. However, I was first exposed to the act of using silence in counselling and in Samaritans. Samaritans use it very effectively. The woman I spoke to was very calming and patient. And she used silence as a method to get me to talk. Silence is used in therapy and in psychological practices to do exactly that. Think about times where there were awkward silences in your life. You may have felt obliged to keep talking to fill the silence up. This is the idea behind leaving an intentional and deliberate silence within conversation. However, it’s not a deceitful and wholly ‘manipulative’ act. It actually benefits the individual on the other side of the phone.
When I called Samaritans and was faced with a lot of silence, it gave me an enormous opportunity to speak. That was what I needed. Samaritans is a helpline that gives you the chance to talk. And that is one of the most important steps towards improvements and a better understanding in your own mental health. A lot of people involved in my life did not want to listen to me at that time, or they would jump down my throats with well meaning but ill timed solutions. At that point, I just needed someone to listen. For me, someone dismissing me or trying to solve my problem only made me feel that no one cared, wanted to listen, or give me the time of day. It’s not that I didn’t want to solve the problem. I just wanted to talk about my situation and how it was making me feel.
For someone to give me a chance to talk, give me a chance to vent… it was unnerving, but it was welcomed. Initially, I didn’t know what to do. I was waiting for the worker to butt in, to offer some kind of solution, but it didn’t come. I’m not going to lie, I was confused and I actually became a bit frustrated. I remember thinking: just have an input, moan with me, please talk back… But now when I think back on it, I can see it was because I was so used to people butting in and offering me solutions that I was not ready to commit to. Plus, Samaritans was not going to bitch and moan with me over one of my issues that was amounting to my suicidal ideation. Because that’s not what they are there for. They were there to give me a safe space so I could finally let everything out.
Although I was hesitant, especially with the silence, in speaking out loud, I eventually began to let everything out. I didn’t cry. Mainly because of the environment I was in when I was on the phone. I was whispering the full conversation. However, throughout I carried feelings of embarrassment trying to tell the worker I was suicidal. Because I was so naturally ashamed I had been feeling so incredibly down that I was almost ready to take my life. Because I had people dismiss me and tell me I was overreacting so I convinced myself that maybe I was overreacting and maybe I was the bad one. I should be ashamed of myself. Why don’t I just get rid of myself because I am so embarrassing? Then the more I wanted to speak about it the more I remembered how embarrassed and ashamed I felt about wanting to kill myself. See, the vicious cycle…
I apologised several times and continued to tell her: “this is really stupid… Please don’t think I’m an idiot… I’m really sorry… I know this is daft… I sound so ridiculous and stupid … maybe I’m the idiot… I know I shouldn’t act this way…”
I made every attempt to downplay how I was feeling. The worker did not agree. She highlighted how important it was that I was speaking about my feelings. She created a sense of trust and made me feel appreciated and like what I was saying mattered. Someone finally heard me and someone finally put me in my place. And that was place was: you are phoning this number because you are in a crisis and I want to help you. She finally made me understand that what I saying was important and it was serious. And that my life mattered. Even if I didn’t think so.
They have a lot of people to speak to so you can’t really stay on the line for hours. However, I think I was on the phone for around 30-40 minutes. They don’t aim to have you on and off the phone within a certain time. But they have a lot of people who call them. Particularly at the time I called, which was at 3am. They have to get these people on the line. They have to catch them before they hang up. That being said, if they feel you are still at risk at the end of conversation, they will phone you back.
Samaritans did this for me.
I was going to a party the next night, where there was going to be alcohol and there was also going to be a few reasons that triggered my suicidal ideation to begin with. I had talked out all my problems, and was in a stage of repeating myself therefore the conversation was becoming ‘stale.’ And that’s my opinion. Not the Samaritans worker. I knew myself that I had talked myself out, and I was getting tired. She would check in occasionally to see how I was feeling now throughout the conversation and when she got the feeling that I was getting tired and feeling at least a degree better she believed it was a good time to bring the conversation to a close.
Because I was going to this party, the worker asked my permission to have someone phone to check in and see how I was feeling. The next night, I was getting ready at a friend’s, and an unknown number came in. My friend suggested it may be Samaritans. I answered and a soft, male voice asked: “hello, is this Adrienne? This is Samaritans calling. Is it a good time to talk?” I disappeared to another room, and spoke quietly to them. This worker asked me how I feeling, did I get a good sleep… They also reassured me that I had done the right thing to phone. They asked where I was, how I felt about going to the party, and who I was going to the party with. The worker relayed the importance of my feelings and my safety. He helped me to understand that I should remove myself from a situation if it was bringing up these suicidal and bad thoughts. I should have a good support system around me. By asking me who I was with, and who I was going to the party with, he told me that I should reach out to these people (if I felt comfortable to) and ask them to keep an eye out on me. It was a short call. It was only meant to be a check up. But, it made a world of difference.
The fact they kept their promise to call me the next day made me feel incredibly safe and appreciated. It made me feel important. I rarely feel important. It validated my feelings. It made me feel like I mattered. I don’t often feel like I matter.
Later that night, I attempted to kill myself. I was stopped by a friend. My friend saved me physically. I was still very suicidal. But, Samaritans allowed me to open that gate. Just like therapy, you will not be cured immediately. Everything will not be magically made better with one discussion. But the minute you talk you begin your journey to recovery. Samaritans is not just for crisis’ moments. It’s a first step. It’s a way to understand your feelings and feel listened. Feeling listened and opening a dialogue is an important start. Samaritans was a first step for me. They took hold of me when I reached out for help.
Samaritans helped me to start my path to saving myself.
Whether you are in crisis or just need to talk to someone, whether you are lonely or your mental health has become too much, Samaritans is a step in the right direction. I know the NHS is bursting at the seams. I know mental health help is so hard to come by. So, try your very, very hardest to utilise Samaritans as a resource. I know how hard it is, especially when you’re in the depths of despair and so trapped with feelings of suicide and hopelessness. But trust me, ring that number, and hold on. They are patient. A patient ear is what we need at that time.
They are listening.
If you are feeling suicidal, or need to talk, ring Samaritans on 116 123. If you don’t want to talk and you’re in Scotland, Breathing Space are piloting a web chat service. Their phone helpline is also available Monday to Thursday 6pm – 2am, and weekends 6pm – 6am. Call them on 0800 83 85 87.