Nearly half of all callers to Samaritans are male, but getting them to discuss what’s troubling them has proved to be a surprisingly difficult challenge.
Samaritans is a volunteer-based charity providing emotional support to anyone in emotional distress or at risk of suicide.
Over the last year, they have conducted research into the way we talk to and listen to each other, which has had a dramatic and positive impact on how they now engage with male callers.
In this four-minute film, two volunteers who work the phone lines discuss how they are meeting this challenge.
[Music followed by sound of telephone ringing]
Woman: Samaritans, can I help you?
Man: The majority of our work is on the telephone – being available to the most vulnerable people who are suffering distress or despair.
Woman: But also there’s a level of kindness that goes into it, that we are just there to befriend people when sometimes they feel like there’s nowhere else to turn.
Man: It’s not unusual for us to take a call from somebody who has nobody else to talk to at all in their lives. So we provide a very, very important outlet where people can discuss what’s troubling them.
Woman: And if what you’re going through in life feels so overwhelming, to the point where you feel that you can’t articulate those feelings, that’s a huge weight to bear. And for some people it’s almost too much to bear. That’s not a conversation that’s very easy to have with a parent or a friend or your partner.
Man: There is a difference in the way that men call, which I think is important for us to recognise. Men sometimes find it very difficult to open the conversation. Some men might call us three times before they actually say their very first sentence, they just can’t get any words out, they just don’t know how to start. Typically, if you just ask a very direct question sometimes to a man, such as how are you feeling, they won’t necessarily answer the question. If you ask them what’s on their mind or what’s happening in your life at the moment, they find it easier to respond.
Woman: I don’t think we can overlook the fact that there’s been a financial crash in recent years, and so I think the notion of men being a breadwinner is still quite prevalent in our society on the whole, and so I think when men feel like they can’t fulfil that role, that’s when things can often turn very bad for them. People feeling like they’re not fulfilling the role that society, that their family, that they expect of themselves.
Man: I would expect every other call to be male. The characteristics of those calls, however, may be somewhat different. So we would typically take a call from a woman, it may last 30 to 40 minutes. A male call, last year, at the beginning of the year, would have probably been about 7 minutes. So although men are calling, although men may want to say something to us, something is happening in that call that makes it somewhat shorter.
We did a lot of work last year in trying to understand the way that men try and communicate and the way that we try and listen. So a year on, the typical male call here now is 15 minutes, so we are getting better at listening to men and getting them to open up and talk to us. The issue really isn’t that men don’t want to talk to us – it’s are we really listening and can we get them to open up, trust us and share their deepest thoughts with us.
Woman: In a very large city like London, which can be incredibly lonely for people, maybe it’s just about connecting with people for a brief moment in time and giving them a space to offload and an ear to listen. And I don’t know how virtuous or noble that is, it’s actually very simple in a way, it’s really uncomplicated.
[Sound of phone ringing]
Man: Samaritans, can I help you?