‘If you’re struggling, talk’: Samaritans campaign tackling mental health stigma in rural Lancashire

Born and raised on a rural Lancashire farm, Michael Brown lives and breathes the countryside. Despite having gone on to run his own agricultural business, all was not well under the surface, however, culminating in a tragic attempt to take his own life.

By Jack Marshall
Thursday, 10th March 2022, 4:55 am
Michael Brown
Michael Brown

But Michael’s community rallied around him, showing him he wasn’t as alone as he’d feared. “Up until my suicide attempt, I didn’t think I had any problems," he says. “After getting the help I should have sought before, it became apparent I was in a really dark and lonely place.”

A recent survey into mental health in rural communities by Opinium Research revealed that men in rural areas are far less likely to reach out for support than counterparts in urban areas, leading the Samaritans to launch their Real People, Real Stories campaign to raise awareness of the help available and to encourage people to reach out and avoid crisis point.

"The rural community is fantastic, but there’s isolation and remoteness - you don’t see anybody new, so you don’t get to know what’s going on,” says Michael, who now works to tackle the mental health stigma in rural communities. “I’ve learnt how important it really is to talk. That’s why I speak to men about my experience and encourage them to talk early on if they are struggling.

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Michael is supporting the Samaritans' new campaign

"Finally opening up was the start of the flood gates opening," he adds. "Up to that point, everything in my head was going round so fast. I think it’s naturally harder for men to open up [but], as soon as you talk to somebody, your problems half; straight away, your problem isn’t yours anymore, you’ve shared it.

"That makes life so much easier, and it makes it easier to go get additional help if you need it," Michael continues, with men in the UK and Ireland three to four times more likely to die by suicide than women. "It was a long, hard journey but we got through it and we go forward each day.”

“Samaritans is there for everyone, and we want anyone struggling to cope to know about and be able to access our support," says Paula Fairburn, a Samaritans listening volunteer in Lancashire. "Well-being challenges and suicide are complex, associated with a wide range of factors, which go beyond where you live and your profession.

"However, evidence suggests there is increased risk for people living in rural areas or working in certain agricultural occupations, she adds. "We therefore need to do more to reach people in these environments and raise awareness of our free, round the clock, confidential emotional support.

Michael Brown talks to David, a Samaritans volunteer.

"Through our new Real People, Real Stories campaign, we hope men in rural communities who are struggling to cope will have an increased understanding of the support that is out there and seek help early on, before reaching crisis point.”

Call the Samaritans for free 24/7 on 116 123, even on a mobile without credit (the number won't show up on your phone bill) or visit samaritans.org for self-help tools and information.