The rail industry's commitment to mental health is needed now more than ever

Having been Samaritan's CEO for just under six months, I have been really inspired to learn about the rail industry's commitment to supporting the charity and the nation's mental health.

It's clear that the events of the past year have had a profound impact on everyone's mental wellbeing. Our longstanding partnership with Network Rail, and the wider rail industry, helps us reach as many people as possible in order to promote positive mental health and make suicide prevention a priority, which is needed now more than ever.

Recent research with Samaritans' fantastic volunteers revealed that over a fifth of calls for help to the charity have been related to coronavirus in the past year, although there is indication that the pandemic has affected all callers in some way. This includes the knock-on effects of the pandemic such as social isolation, relationship breakdown and financial worries.

We're proud to have been able to maintain a 24/7 service throughout the pandemic as a result of the incredible efforts and dedication of Samaritans volunteers. Latest figures show that since social distancing restrictions began in March, Samaritans volunteers across the UK and Republic of Ireland clocked up over 920,000 hours supporting those who are struggling to cope during the pandemic. As we start to look beyond lockdown, the long-term impact is concerning with pressures likely to continue for some time.

So, after a challenging year for all and as restrictions begin to ease over the coming months, it's so important that Samaritans continue to be there for everyone and it's thanks, in part, to the rail industry volunteering initiative 'Million Hour Challenge' that that is possible.

The ambitious challenge, launched in March 2019, aims to bring rail industry staff together to help Samaritans be there for those struggling to cope, whilst also improving mental health and wellbeing within the sector. Building on the rail industry's successful 10-year partnership with Samaritans, we're encouraging the rail industry to continue to donate its time, logging hours of volunteer activity, towards the challenge.

There are many ways that rail staff can get involved – whether it's a regular virtual tea break and check in with colleagues, organising a fundraiser, registering interest to become a Samaritans' listening volunteer or simply spreading the message on social media – it won't only benefit our dedicated volunteers and callers, but be a real boost to the individual volunteering too.

An important part of our partnership is the 'Managing Suicidal Contacts' training course that we provide to the industry, which focuses on how to approach someone who appears vulnerable to get them to safety. To date, over 22,000 rail staff and BTP officers have been trained in suicide prevention to help save lives. This course, as well as the 'Wellbeing in the Workplace' toolkit online training both contribute as hours towards the challenge too.

Regardless of how much of your precious time you can spare, I just want to say a big thank you for all your efforts so far, it really does help us make a difference.

Julie Bentley is the CEO of Samaritans.  If you're part of the rail industry and want to find out more visit millionhourchallenge.com, where you can sign up and start logging your hours.  Whatever you're facing, Samaritans volunteers are there to listen – day or night, 365 days a year. Call free on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org

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