**Trigger Warning – this blog mentions suicide**
In 2009 I completed a training course with the Samaritans and was a Listening Volunteer until 2012, stopping just before the birth of my first child. I did 2-3 shifts a week, mainly during the evening or overnight.
My motivation was to be there for those who needed to talk. It was a privilege to listen and emotionally hold those callers. I was trained to listen without judgement, to be comfortable with silence, and on every call we asked about suicidal thoughts.
As a Samaritan I answered countless calls and listened to people who were feeling hopeless and in despair. I took comfort from the fact that they could call the Samaritans in their time of emotional darkness. So, when I heard about the Rethink Mental Illness #findMike campaign in 2014, it vaguely registered with me. It reminded me of how I sometimes wondered what had happened to those callers.
I spent last Thursday to Saturday at Comms Unplugged, an amazing, outdoor, professional development and wellbeing event for people working in public relations and communications.
The whole event takes place in a field with delegates camping on site. It’s a digital detox with no WiFi and a ban on all social media. The mutual disconnection from the outside world creates space and opportunities for genuine connection. It was magical.
A stand out speaker was Friday’s keynote, Jonny Benjamin MBE.
He shared his very personal and still painful story. Jonny talked about his life and the circumstances that resulted in him standing on a bridge in central London in 2008 about to jump to his death. A passing stranger stopped and talked to Jonny. That conversation saved Jonny’s life.
The stranger was Neil Laybourn who showed his humanity by reaching out and connecting to another human in pain. He told Jonny not to be embarrassed and said that he would be okay. Jonny said that he felt heard for the first time and this interaction sparked the start of his recovery.
You can read more about their story here https://www.rethink.org/aboutus/what-we-do/making-change-happen/find-mike/
What I am present to as a result of Comms Unplugged and Jonny’s courageous and inspirational talk is that emotional isolation is dangerous. As a society we are so digitally over-connected that we are losing the confidence and skills to simply be with others, to listen and emotionally connect with them.
So please take a moment today to put down your phone, look around you and take notice.
If there is someone you are worried about speak to them. If you’re not okay reach out and connect with someone, anyone.
The Samaritans are there day and night, call 116 123 FREE or email firstname.lastname@example.org
There are other places to seek support too, including https://hubofhope.co.uk/