Helping the Samaritans save lives with tech

12th March 2019

Russell Haworth

Russell Haworth

As a parent, there is nothing more chilling than hearing about children and teenagers in the UK taking their own lives. According to the Samaritans, around 200 young people commit suicide every year, and the tragic idea is brewing in the minds of too many today. NHS Digital has found a worrying number of teenagers admitting to self-harm or having suicidal thoughts, including one in five girls aged 17-19.

In a bid to try and understand this trend, many have started pointing to the relationship between digital infiltration in young lives and the rise in mental illness and suicidal thoughts. Most recently, the issue was brought starkly home when the father of teenager Mollie Russell called for action on social media, concerned that it may have played a part in her death in 2017 by allowing her to access explicit content.

Technology is a powerful enabler, but the onus is on those in control of it to direct its potency towards good, and not ill. Our young people are growing up immersed in a digital world. It is only right that we start using it better to help them cope with the stresses and demands of life. We need to use everything at our disposal to position their devices as a gateway of solutions and not a black hole of despair. If we can turn the computer in their pocket into a source of support, we can help more of them through the hard times.

This is something that the Samaritans, one of the UK’s leading charities which supports those with suicidal thoughts, has increasingly come to realise. They work hard to provide a kind and understanding ear to those who feel desperate, but have increasingly found that young people – especially those with conditions such as autism or social anxiety – are often put off by the prospect of picking up the phone.

It is imperative that the support is out there in a format these potentially vulnerable young people can access. Thankfully we are in a position to support the Samaritans with tech expertise, as well as funds, to help them create the online platform they most require. It is with great pride that Nominet is stepping into that breach to help the Samaritans realise this dream – along with The Developer Society. In partnership, we are creating an online platform that will help reach thousands of new users.

We are also helping the Samaritans to better coordinate the back end operations of their work. The charity currently manages and schedules shifts for 20,000 amazing volunteers, a lengthy and complicated administrative task. This process will be vastly simplified by creating an Intelligent Dashboard for Volunteers that will automate their whole volunteer system. Not only will this save time and resource, this will also allow for the growth that the Samaritans badly needs: Samaritans volunteers deal with around 5 million requests for help a year, and by 2021 Samaritans estimates 6000 more volunteers will be needed to deal with the increasing demand.

There is nothing more important than listening to those who feel they aren’t heard; it can make the difference between life and death. There are many people still alive today thanks to the timely intervention of the Samaritans, but many more can be saved if we can help the charity bring their incredible work into this digital age. I am honoured that Nominet will be able to facilitate this digital transformation and I sincerely hope that through this work, the Samaritans can save more lives, and preserve families from having to endure such unspeakable horror.

Find out more about Nominet’s work with the Samaritans in our press release.