James Jopling: Good to talk but more important to listen

'We don't just hear you, we listen.' Picture: TSPL
'We don't just hear you, we listen.' Picture: TSPL
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IT IS a strength to reach out for help if you feel you can’t cope, says James Jopling

Despite the stereotype of relationships where one person barely hears what their partner says and just mumbles agreement at roughly the right places, most of us like to think we’re pretty good listeners.

But we tend to keep quiet about our own problems, as statistics from a recent survey we undertook at Samaritans showed. Nearly two-thirds of people believed they are good listeners, but only a little over a quarter feel they can talk when something’s on their mind.

These figures come as Samaritans launched our We Listen campaign. Supported by Network Rail and the wider rail industry, the message is that while it’s easy to hide your feelings, when someone really listens, which is what Samaritans volunteers do, you’re more likely to open up and start working through your problems. Posters in railway stations across Scotland contain hidden messages where people claiming to be fine reveal that they’re actually not OK at all. One says: “I’m alright with being single I guess. It’s not ideal for the kids, but they seem to be coping.” The real message being: “I’m not coping”.

Another says: “I’m going to be alright. It’s not so bad spending a lot of time alone,” where the reality is: “I’m so alone.”

The Samaritans message is: “We don’t just hear you, we listen.” We hope to reassure people who might want to call us that dedicated listeners are interested in the real problems they might be grappling with.

Life’s pressures can build, without even realising. It’s all too easy to turn away, ignore how you’re feeling, and put on a brave face. We’ve all done that, but you don’t have to do with Samaritans. Samaritans volunteers make time for you and really listen to you, because simply being listened to can help you put into words what’s really going on in your life and help you find a way through. Life can be tough. It is strength not a weakness to reach out for support.

Network Rail has been working with Samaritans to raise awareness of the charity’s emotional support services since 2010, along with Scotland’s train operating companies and British Transport Police. As well as funding advertising campaigns in stations, in the community and at big events, the partnership has seen more than 11,500 rail staff across the UK trained in listening and confidence skills, enabling them to identify people at risk and help them. In the past year alone, railway staff may have prevented more than 450 people in the UK from harming themselves on the rail network.

And former Olympic heavyweight champion boxer Audley Harrison MBE is also putting his muscle behind the campaign. He has been mobilising support for the campaign on Twitter, and encouraging other TV, film and sports celebrities to do the same. He says it is strength not a weakness to reach out for help if you feel you can’t cope.

This campaign will be promoted heavily online and across social media, with people invited to explore and share a short film showing the difference between hearing and listening. Shot from the point of view of someone having a conversation with a friend going through difficult times, a series of distractions highlight that it’s not always easy to hear what really matters. The aim is to emphasise how valuable listening is when supporting people who may be struggling, and to encourage more people to contact Samaritans before their feelings overwhelm them. The earlier someone feels they can contact us, the better we may be able to help them.

If there is someone close to you that you’re worried about – ask them if they are OK and really listen to what they have to say. If we do believe we are good listeners then it is time we all started practising it.

• James Jopling is executive director for Scotland, Samaritans. You can call Samaritans for free and anonymously any time from any phone on 116 123 (you don’t need credit and this number won’t show up on your phone bill), email 
jo@samaritans.org, or visit samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch.