Free hotline to aid suicide fight

John Coleman became the new director of the Samaritans in Blackpool earlier this year

John Coleman became the new director of the Samaritans in Blackpool earlier this year

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The battle to lower Blackpool’s high suicide rate has been boosted by the introduction of a new free-to-call hotline.

Despite the resort’s jolly image of neon lights, sticks of rock, and Kiss Me Quick hats, it has the highest suicide rate in England and Wales and has previously been dubbed the ‘anti-depressant capital of England’.

We know call charges can be a barrier to accessing our service, potentially preventing some people from contacting Samaritans when they need us most

Leading suicide reduction charity Samaritans hopes its new free-to-call number, launched earlier this week, will allow people struggling to cope to access the vital service even if they have no credit on their mobile or change for a phone box.

Boss Ruth Sutherland said: “We know call charges can be a barrier to accessing our service, potentially preventing some people from contacting Samaritans when they need us most.”

People living in the most deprived of areas are ten times more likely to end their own lives than those from wealthier areas, research has shown.

And the implications of removing the financial barrier by making the calls free could be ‘significant’, the charity said.

Stephen Hall, who looks after Samaritan’s partnerships from his base in Preston, said lengthy calls were costing 
people up to £25, and were sometimes left so late the caller had already decided to take their own life before picking up the phone.

He said: “We have found that people struggling financially put off seeking help until they are later on in their crisis.

“By removing the cost, it will encourage people to contact us earlier.”

Some 13.6 out of every 100,000 people in Blackpool kill themselves every year, according to statistics.

The national average is almost half that figure.

Blackpool Council faced criticism in a government report released earlier this year, which said there was ‘worryingly little’ being done.

The new number is 116 123. Calls do not appear on phone bills.

Suicide prevention work ‘is in place’

Coun Eddie Collett, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for reducing health inequalities, said: “To suggest we are not doing enough work on prevention is ill-informed and distracts from the real issues. As everyone in Blackpool knows the real issues that need to be looked at to create a healthier, happier town are societal and economic ones like poverty, substance misuse, housing and unemployment.

“For the record we have actually just carried out our own audit of the factors that lead to these types of tragedies and are also in the midst of a piece of research looking at men – among whom there is a higher rate of suicide – and their physical and mental wellbeing

“Both these pieces of work, along with the experience built up over many years, will help inform how we shape our services to better meet their needs and improve their health and wellbeing.

“On top of this we commission training courses, general wellbeing services, counselling and many other support services.”