My thoughts on the Samaritans Radar Application

The Future

Thanks for dropping by to read another of my blog posts, these posts are usually on mental health from a carer’s perspective. I am currently caring for a close relative suffering from mental ill health, so I have set up this blog as a form of expression, updates and support for myself and others.

 

 

 

Well ok lets get to this, I have been hearing lots of stories, news and thoughts on the new Samaritans RADAR app, for those who do not know. Let me briefly explain what the Samaritans do.

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The Samaritans is a registered charity in the UK aimed at providing emotional support to anyone in emotional distress, that being those who may end up reaching crisis points who have no one else to talk to.

The Samaritans aim is to try and stop those from thinking of taking their own life and this can apply to many people suffering mental ill health and at times carers like myself.

If people begin to realise they are reaching that crisis point and they are brave enough to ring the Samaritans, then at least that person can talk to the Samaritans about what is affecting them. This does not mean the Samaritans will solve the persons problems, but at least they will be there to listen.

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The thing is, a lot depends on if the person suffering emotional distress is ‘brave‘ enough to ring the Samaritans in the first place. Its not like we all realise when we reach that crisis point, usually reaching emotional distress can be a slow process and can often be ignored by ourselves and sometimes other people.

There is a lot of stigma around emotional suicidal distress, suicidal behaviour can be often viewed as weakness when basically it means that person is crying out for help. I know for sure that such stigma is so psychologically deep that the suffer will leave hints or clues to others on the situation that sufferer is going through.

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Some will remain silent and withdraw while others will slip in words into a conversation, which might not always be picked up by friends, here are some examples.

“I wish it would all end” and the person might let out a weak smile as if they did not mean it.
“I want it to go away”
“Who cares anyway”
“Doesn’t matter to anyone”
“Its over”

and so on. The stigma is so deep that unfortunately many will leave hints and clues and still those will not be picked up, this then leaves the sufferer to finally agree with themselves to end it all.

Below is the Samaritans Radar video

Now I wont hide or lie, as a carer there are times when things have gotten so bad that I wished I could have just disappeared, I would often think to myself if there was some form of escape from the pressure of caring. There are also times when I would even question my existence.

I wondered if I wanted to continue to witness my loved one’s decline into mental torment and watch them slowly destroy their life as their will and energy ebbed away from them.

Luckily I did not reach that critical stage and thinking back about those episodes I also realised that I did not even phoned or visit the Samaritans, but make no mistake about it, I am still at risk.

So I guess we some idea what the Samaritans is all about, but as I have mentioned, you could visit the Samaritans or give them a call on the phone (number at bottom of blog post), but with the age of social media we now have people communicating online, it was only a matter of time before the Samaritans decided to track those who are in crisis.

I am talking about twitter, with is a social media platform where many communicate, express their thoughts and try and gain followers relating to their subject matter.

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You see, notice the words I am using in this blog post.

Social, communication, listening.

These words are the very core concepts for anyone trying to lessen or stop those from suicidal behaviour.

So going back to twitter, the Samaritans have released an application called “RADAR” or “Samaritans Radar”. As far as I know, it works like this. The Samaritans Radar will flag potentially worrying tweets that friends or others may have missed, giving them the option to reach out to those who may need their support.

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All you need to do is go on the “Samaritans” website and activate the RADAR application by typing your email address and then the application will monitor your friends tweets for worrying “text” in case you miss anything.

Looking back at the introduction of the Radar system, this is a brave and innovating thing the Samaritans are trying to do, especially in the age of the CCTV camera, the age of spamming and the problems of Facebook constantly forcing marketing without people’s consent. I can certainly understand why many  people would take objection to being monitored by more applications.

There are however many reasons why I feel this application is certainly needed and those reasons are vast, the first is that as society changes, so does the way we communicate change as well.

Society changes and so does communication

Just go on any bus, tube or train and I ll point out that the first thing that you will see are people staring into their mobile phones, phablets or tablets. You cannot say that this is not a common sight in the UK or further afield, but the downside is this…..people communicate, but now people just do not talk to each other.

As a society we are communicating online, we watch each others facebook updates, we check our twitter feeds and visit Instagram pages, but its now rare that we talk openly.

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So if as a technological society we are using our mobile phones for on line interaction, there will be some point in time. some of us will communicate our distress online, the worrying problem is what happens if we as carers, friends or even…..mental health professionals miss those messages?

The other reason why I feel the application has potential is

Hints and Signs

Did I mention as a carer that there were times when I have almost reached that stage of crisis? Well as you may already know, I am also a male carer which increases the risk of suicidal behaviour.

Here are some startling statistics regarding male suicides in the UK

– The overwhelming majority of all suicides (78%) were male (4,020).

– There were 4 male suicides for every female suicide in the 15-34 age group.

– The highest rate of male suicide in the UK is in the 40-44 age group

– The pattern of rising numbers of increasingly older men taking their lives continued in 2013.

– The ratio of male to female suicide is disproportionate regardless of which age group is examined.

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I did also mention that I did not use the Samaritans because I felt there was no need, but I know for sure I must have left hints and signs about my predicament, I now look back and wonder if any of my friends picked those up, would they have reacted? Could this application be a turn around for such depressing statistical figures?

Who is looking out for me?

If the case of what would have happened if someone was alerted to my distress, I have now begun to think “who on earth IS looking after me?”. We know that carers can be isolated, carers can be trapped and there are times when carers have difficulty reaching out to others. Sometimes to break the isolation a carer may be fortunate enough to go online and communicate. If there was just that one chance, that small break where someone picked up a tweet when a male carer like myself would have left something, would that person reach out to reassure me?

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Times change and so should the Samaritans

Times change, societies change, everything is in flux. There was a famous Greek philosopher called Heraclitus who said “No man ever steps in the same river twice”. Those words run deep, although there are counter arguments, change is inevitable and with societal change, organisations have to change, This includes the Samaritans.

Its true that with the mobile phone, we can still call for help when needed, but I did point out earlier that many more people are communicating online. It makes complete sense that the Samaritans decided to take that step forward and change with the method of communication.

We ALL can be Samaritans

Most people deep down would like to be there for someone. I mean this is a human trait regardless of the pressures placed on us to survive by holding down a job, paying the bills and keeping up with the neighbours. Do you not feel that being there for someone who desperately in need, is the pinacle of morality?

Many would and still try to train to be volunteer Samaritan, some pass and take on the role as a Samaritan, but I am sure many would fail and question themselves on what they did wrong.

Other people unfortunately do not have the time, but wish that they could be there for someone, however the worst part of it is that families, carers and friends mentally torment themselves when unfortunately they missed that clue or hint from someone who committed suicide.

Usually when we think of the Samaritans, we tend to think of someone who has made it through not only the training, but has the background and character to support those in desperate need. With the advent of this application, we can ALL be Samaritans, we have a chance to be there for someone, even if that chance is small. The risk of suicides will unfortunately always be there and this must be tackled be it by innovation, resources or intervention.

Counter the trolling

With the age of online communication comes also the hidden dangers, as with other forms of communication there are risks and in October 2014 there was a plan by the UK justice secretary to change maximum prison sentence for on-line abuse from six months to two years. Now basically trolling is a form of seeking to upset, threaten or ridicule someone on-line because it is far harder to say that to a persons face, a troll would hide behind an identity to cause maximum emotional turmoil and this can be done through twitter and other social media platforms.

So can you imagine how many times have you seen someone who is reaching out only to be attacked by online trolling? This is a shameful state of a technological society and something needs to counter this, with the RADAR application, there is a chance that our behaviour could change for the better, but there will be always someone out there who will troll because they think it seems funny.

Technological civilised society

The biggest need for the RADAR app is not only down to technological factors, but also as a society if we have reached a stage where we are highly technological, there must be a warning somewhere that a civilised society should not get left behind in the race to become advanced. I can think of nothing so embarrassing for a society to become advanced in all things except to look after its citizens, communities or people.

Take a look at the WHO list of countries by suicide rate.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate

Now there are countries in the top 10 list that have a high suicide rate due to many underlying factors, some countries have newly formed governments that lack the infrastructure to tackle suicides. Other countries suffer from governments that ignore suicides and are almost corrupt, there are some countries that have alcohol addiction problems and also climate is a factor as well as economic reasons, but notice something else in the top 10 index.

We have two highly advanced countries being Japan and South Korea, both have advanced economies and both have high education rates, both have low crime rates, plus both also have very high internet usage with increasing communication speeds and infrastructures, so what’s going on?

Yes I admit there are also other influences and pressures regarding suicides in those countries and yes they are seriously trying to tackle those sucidal problems, but there is something worrying if a country has a high rate of communication, but at the same time no one is listening?

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In the UK, there is no doubt that we are desperately trying to advance our communication infrastructure, the benefits are faster communications, faster ideas and more growth for business, but at the same time we should avoid sleep walking into a society where we all communicate and nobody listens.

There should be little excuse for a country to view technology as just a method of communication, we all need to be connected to communicate and not just connected for only technological reasons.

My field of interest

There are other important reasons for such an application, but the closest one is my special field of interest. I am after all a carer within the mental health field and that means deep down, I am going to be more concerned and have empathy for people be this offline or online. I have known a few people who have unfortunately took their lives, but this is because of the circle I am in.

So because of my field there is going to be a high rate of people that I will link, follow and communicate who are vulnerable and if there wasnt something deep down inside nagging at me to check up on carers or those using the services who I communicate with, then I feel something is wrong or flawed.

We are all in that race on twitter to get those followers. We all want to be popular, we all want to be noticed and we all want to make that big impact, but now I view twitter differently. If you notice my twitter behaviour I try and keep my follow ratio average and I will probably follow back unless someone seeks to spam or annoy me. There are mechanics of twitter where a high follow rating is bad, because twitter thinks you will spam.

I am not too choosy who I follow because my twitter profile reflects my character, I know I am vulnerable and I see that in others as well. I support and re-tweet the small as well as the big and I do not really care too much about my reputation or image. What I care about is reflected as a carer, but I know I will let others down, because us carers cannot possibly be everywhere.

The problems

I cannot completely hold RADAR on a pedestal, there are problems with it and they should be mentioned.

Its New

As with all applications, there will be bugs, abuses and problems. Information Technology thrives on changing and bringing out new concepts, so with new concepts comes unforeseen problems, hey!! Ask the Microsoft on their their platforms they bring out every so often, otherwise they would not be releasing beta tests.

Monitoring

No one likes being spied upon, no one likes to be watched and in the west we value our freedom of choice, our freedom of speech, when this freedom is at risk then people will voice their concerns and displeasure, after all is that what freedom of speech is about isn’t it?

Some will go so far to say that suicide is a form of expression, the ultimate act of freedom, not to say I agree whole heartedly, I feel most suicides are a cry for help, but when we are monitored, there is some sort of annoyance that we ought to be careful what we say.

False positives

I think thats it for me….

I have almost finished my blog post, but wait. That first statement above was not meant to mean anything suicidal and there is our problem, is RADAR protected from false positive? Think of the over active anti-virus applications. They stop things that clearly are not viruses problems, or think of the anti-spam email apps. This is something RADAR needs to consider.

It can be Lazy

So we have a tool to monitor someone if they become in desperate need, thats great and a useful device for people, but wait a minute!! Why arent we ourselves keeping in more contact with our friends or followers anyway?

Could there be a risk that even compassion and concern may become automated? Perhaps if we paid a bit more attention to whose who we link to, then maybe those in distress may not have to be flagged up as in crisis.

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Identity

This problem relates closely to what I have mentioned in the monitoring section, but at a far deeper and psychological level, but I am going to leave this for another day.

Final Thoughts

I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog post on the new Samaritans App, I do have a feeling I have missed quite a few things out and again left to my devices I could write for ages, but I also know time is short for some people out there and they cannot read as much as they would like.

I really hope the Samaritans do not feel pressured to withdraw the application, technological communication is growing at a faster and larger rate, the stakes are too high. As more of us come online and communicate, we risk drowning out others who are crying for help, we are flawed because we cannot possibly be there for everyone.

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As humans the creation of tools separates us from the other animals, these tools can advance us, but its not just the creation of those tools but how we actually USE those tools that really advances us as humans, this is what advances society, we are SOCIAL animals and we should USE these tools to remain social hence the title “Social” media.

Let us not race to become advanced and leave the voices of the vulnerable and desperate behind.

If you are feeling upset or worried about anything I have mentioned in this post, please give the Samaritans a call on 08457 90 90 90 * (UK)

Thanks for reading.

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