Ben Handford credits the Samaritans with saving his life on more than one occasion. Here, the Director of Fundraising for the charity in Norwich explains exactly why he will be walking 220 miles around Norfolk next month
I’m Norfolk born and bred and have always had a good life from the outside looking in. Many people would say that I have been successful – and I’m known for being the energetic, positive and outgoing. However, that is just the public facing persona and when I’m behind closed doors I’m a far more complicated character one who has suffered from severe depression and a number of personality disorders for more than 20 years.
At the start of 2020, I had just sold my business, Naked Marketing – that I was the founder of some 17 years ago. I was sad to let my baby go, but at the same time delighted that the team were going to take Naked Marketing forward and that my original business partner was going to step up to the reigns and lead this fab company. I knew it would be in safe hands.
In the first and second lockdowns I felt I was in the best place I’d been in for over a decade which made the crash that came in April this year all the more terrifying for me and those who care for me. I was detained and then sectioned on April 12, for my own safety. I had been found on a bridge over the A47 on the wrong side of the railings. A kind passer-by had notified the Police and they helped me get the care and treatment I needed.
Over the past few years, as my mental health had deteriorated, I had used the Samaritans phone service a couple of times. Two of those times I can honestly say they saved my life. You see, when you want to be dead, it’s very hard to share that with anyone you care about. Imagine telling your parents, wife, best friend that you want to die. For me I couldn’t share that pain. Whenever I did pluck up the courage, friends said things like don’t be so silly, think of your daughter, pull yourself together. Whereas a Samaritan will listen and not judge and that gives you time to explore these dark thoughts and what they mean, giving you time to feel stronger and to carry on living.
I knew I was not mentally strong enough to be a listening volunteer, but I wanted to give back in some way. By volunteering for a support role, I felt I could help make a difference without risking my own mental wellbeing further.
I think we are far more aware of the wide spectrum of mental health conditions and on the surface at least we are better at talking about it. Yet scratch the surface and there is still a long way to go in understanding and treating the different conditions.
I’ve lost a good friend to suicide. To this day it eats me up that they never reached out to me. The subject of suicide still seems to be taboo – yet talking about your thoughts and fears can really help. From my own experience I’d encourage people who are struggling to reach out to a doctor, to a friend and of course The Samaritans who are there 24/7 ready to listen. Call free on 116 123.
Step by step I’m making my recovery and I want to help others who maybe struggling with suicidal thoughts, I want to raise awareness and let people know there is help out there.
The Samaritans have been a wonderful tool, there to listen to me without judgement, the opportunity to share my dark thoughts without causing pain to a loved one has been priceless. Their vision is ‘fewer people die of suicide’ and I want to raise awareness and funds for this charity which I personally know has saved my life on at least two separate occasions.
That’s why I am walking around the Norfolk perimeter and then to Norwich, 220 miles in seven days. I hope to raise much needed funds to ensure the Samaritans are there to listen when people need it the most.
On Sept 13 Ben will begin following the Round Norfolk Relay route on foot, starting in Great Yarmouth, then walking clockwise round Norfolk back to Great Yarmouth before making the walk back to the Samaritans office in Norwich. To donate, visit https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/walknorfolk. Call the Samaritans for free on 116 123.