In January 2010 a pioneering Samaritans and Network Rail partnership launched, covering the rail network in England, Scotland and Wales, with the overall aim of reducing the number of suicides on the railways by 20% over a five year period.
Suicides by men are three times more common than by women and working class men in their 30s, 40s and 50s are those most likely of all to take their own lives, including those on the railways. Besides the tragic loss of life, suicide has a devastating effect on family, friends, train drivers, railway staff and witnesses.
The £5 million partnership between Samaritans and Network Rail is now in its third year and involves the roll out of a programme of suicide prevention and post-incident support activities. Over 3,000 rail staff and BTP officers have now been trained in how to spot someone in distress, how to intervene and get them to a place of safety. The partnership also involves stations teaming up with local Samaritans branches to help support them following an incident.
With the support of Network Rail, Train Operators and the British Transport Police, the partnership has been making a positive impact. Samaritans has been informed by railway staff about incidents where rail staff have intervened when they’ve seen someone on the platform in distress.
One of the essential elements of the partnership is the ‘We’re In Your Corner’ nationwide public awareness campaign, which is being developed in two phases.
Campaign phase 1 ‘Men on the Ropes’
In September 2010, the first phase of the national advertising campaign was launched called ‘Men on the Ropes’. It was designed to increase public awareness of Samaritans’ support services for those who may be struggling to cope.
Over a two year period the boxer image has been displayed around railway stations, level crossings and in nearby pubs nationwide. Station packs containing key information about the partnership, along with leaflets and pocket contact cards for distribution to affected passengers, have been distributed to railway locations nationwide.
Campaign phase 2
The second phase of the ‘We’re in your corner’ campaign, launching on 20 September, will build on the success of ‘Men on the Ropes’ and its ‘boxer’ image.
The challenge with this year’s campaign was finding an image, or archetype, that is recognised and respected amongst the target male audience, in the same way that the boxer image from 2010 was. From this, coupled with feedback from the railway industry, the decision was made to produce three images, featuring men of different ages, and reaching different male audiences. It was felt that because people had seen the boxer images often, it was time to update them to create more of an impact.
What the research told us
Samaritans carried out in-depth research to help understand the target group of ‘men’ and identify the challenges in developing a targeted campaign.
Here’s what was discovered:
• most men don’t like to talk – or at least admit to it
• for a lot of men talking about their problems can feel like an admission of defeat, that they aren’t able to solve them on their own
• as men get older, they can get ground down, feel that their ‘fire’ can go out, that they no longer have a rage inside them, but rather a depressive acceptance of the fact that life is not going to improve.
In order for the campaign to work, the images need to connect with the audience. Suicide is an uncomfortable topic and it was essential that the target group were able to identify and connect with the images.
How to get the ‘image’ right?
To help shape the campaign, a series of one-to-one in-depth interviews were conducted, with men from the target audience to test a series of new images. Three different images tested positively: a boxing trainer, a soldier and a workman.
The boxing trainer tested well as boxing remains a tough, well respected, accessible sport amongst working class men. The soldier garnered the most respect amongst this audience, and it was acknowledged that they would have potentially ‘seen things’ that could cause them to have problems. The workman signified the ‘everyday man’ who could be easily identified with.
The findings highlighted the need to portray the ‘ordinary man’ but they still needed to be tough, be seen to be ‘holding it together’ and getting on with life – and most importantly they must not appear beaten, or be seen as an object of pity.
The final images chosen, the boxing trainer, soldier and workman deliver a clear message that ‘it’s ok to call Samaritans’.
New research: Men, Suicide and Society
Statistics show that working class men in their 30s, 40s and 50s are those most at risk of suicide, but what is not clear is why. Alongside the new poster images, Samaritans commissioned five experts to look into the reasons why this target group are so vulnerable to suicide.
The results of this research are being published later in September with the hope that it will help those working in suicide prevention to understand more about this group and how to reach out to them.