Caroline Flack's death is a tragic reminder of why we must talk about our mental health, says Samaritans volunteer
Today marks the year anniversary of Caroline Flack's tragic passing.
Caroline Adie, who has been a volunteer for Samaritans for the past 15 years, tells me that it's a heartbreaking reminder why we need to talk about our mental health.
"I firmly believe that talking about things is the way forward," Adie says. "In simple terms, that's what we do at Samaritans - we offer people a non-judgemental space to speak about their issues.
"It's anonymous, confidential, and we will talk to absolutely anybody who's in distress or despair."
The need to speak openly and honestly
Adie, 55, discovered Samaritans following the untimely death of her father. The grief led led to her being diagnosed with clinical depression. "For a long time after he died, I couldn't verbalise my grief," she tells me. "I had to support my mother who had just lost her life partner.
"But bottling it up was the wrong thing to do. Around six months later, I felt like my heart was literally broken, it was like I had a stone pressing down on my chest. I felt like if I started screaming, I'd never stop."
It was at this point that Adie realised that she needed to speak to a professional, and the ensuing process proved to be "incredibly powerful".
"Although I had really supportive friends and family, it was the act of speaking to a stranger that helped," she continues. "Having someone who had no idea of my background, or my family dynamics meant that I no longer had to edit myself – and the fact that I felt like I was internally screaming into the void every day.
"I became quite evangelical about the fact that we should be speaking more honestly – in the right forums."
While Adie had been aware of Samaritans before, after she'd finished counselling, she hadn't considered volunteering. It wasn't until she saw an advertisement in a newspaper that the idea occurred to her. "That prompted me to apply, because I wanted to give back after everything I'd gone through," she adds. "That was fifteen years ago, and I've been doing it ever since."
Samaritans and their life-saving work
The life-saving service, which was founded in 1953, is run by trained volunteers, who provide emotional support to anyone in distress, or at risk of suicide. Most of their work is done through the telephone helpline, which is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
As is stated on the charity's website, Samaritans answer a call for help every seven seconds. It's a sobering statistic, but simultaneously a hopeful one.
"The dangerous thing is when you bottle up a thought, and it spirals," Adie tells me. "Just being able to say it out loud, and speak about your problems to someone objectively, means you see it in a different way that is perhaps not as terrifying."
'If you're struggling, you're struggling'
Now a veteran, Adie delivers training sessions for volunteers at her local branch of Samaritans in South East London. And the charity's ethos – which stresses the importance of empathetic listening and human contact – also applies to its volunteers.
"We're so used to talking about these issues, and the longer you do it, the more aware you become of your own mental health," Adie explains. "I'm now much more conscious of when I'm having a bad day or week, which makes me better equipped to handle it.
She details how after coming off a shift, volunteers are required to offload about their calls to their shift leader. They are also required to undertake mental health checks – "because without that solid foundation yourself, you can't support anybody else".
"We're all guilty of putting on a face," Adie continues, touching gently on Caroline Flack, who took her own life last year, aged 40. "When someone asks us how we're feeling, we can feel compelled to say, 'Oh I'm fine,' when it might be more useful for our mental wellbeing to say, 'I'm not so great today'.
"I always have callers who say 'there are other people worse off than me'. But that's not the way it works. There's no sliding scale of being distressed or upset. If you're struggling, you're struggling. It doesn't matter what the circumstances are."
Anyone can contact Samaritans FREE any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit. This number won’t show up on your phone bill. Or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.