To mark World Suicide Prevention Day (10 September 2015), Samaritans is encouraging anyone worried about a friend, colleague or family member who may be struggling to cope to ask, ‘Are you OK?’.

In the UK and the Republic of Ireland, more than 6,000 people die by suicide each year – an average of 18 people every single day. Every 6 seconds Samaritans responds to a call for help, by phone, email, text or face to face in its 201 branches.

Not everyone finds it easy to start a conversation that may be uncomfortable, and not everyone shows signs that they are struggling with difficult thoughts or feelings. But simple human contact -knowing that you’re not alone with your troubles and that someone will listen – can make a big difference, even at the most difficult of times.

In research carried out for Samaritans, only a quarter of people (29%) said they would be happy to encourage others to talk about their problems and when asked if they would approach someone who looked upset, three-quarters (75%) said they would not.*

Samaritans CEO, Ruth Sutherland, says we need to be braver as just a simple question, to encourage a person to talk about their problems, can help them to feel less isolated, and more able to find a way through.

“It’s not always obvious that someone is struggling to cope. It may be that they just can’t find the words, don’t want to burden others, or fear they will be judged.  If you ask, ‘Are you OK?’ and show you are there to listen, people are far less likely to feel they have to go it alone with their troubles. It’s not t always about looking for someone to fix a problem – sometimes the biggest help can be having someone to share it with.

For anyone who doesn’t want to talk to someone they know, or who is worried about someone else, Samaritans is here round the clock, every single day of the year to listen in confidence about whatever’s troubling them.”

Professor Rory O’Connor from the University of Glasgow leads research into suicidal behaviour and has worked with Samaritans on understanding why some people are more at risk.

“If you bottle things up, you can feel trapped in your situation. Knowing you’re not alone, not the only one who’s felt this way, and that people will listen, is something to hold onto, even in the most difficult of times.  A person focused on taking their life often finds it difficult to see alternatives. This intense period only lasts a short while for many people.  So for some, even small things like knowing you are not alone can do a huge amount to bring them back from that decision.”

People looking for support to start a conversation with someone they’re worried about can find tips and guidance on Samaritans’ website at www.samaritans.org/wspd or follow Samaritans on Twitter @samaritans, #RUOK or find them on Facebook www.facebook.com/samaritanscharity.