The new chair of Samaritans talks about mental health, the therapeutic quality of prayer, and how the Covid pandemic has turned up the volume on the pressures people face
Keith Leslie has the kind of voice you’d want to hear if you rang a helpline in a state of distress. It’s gentle, friendly, calm; the hint of a soft Scottish burr gives it an added authenticity. I can just imagine him lifting the phone and saying confidently: “Samaritans, can I help you?” And those who know him from his business career say that Leslie, who took over as chair of Samaritans at the start of the year, also has a gift for listening.
Listening is key to the work of the Samaritans, the organisation founded nearly 70 years ago to help people considering suicide or in emotional distress. Although many people still view it as the telephone helpline of last resort for those on the verge of suicide, it takes calls – and nowadays, responds to emails – from the lonely and miserable to the angry and aggressive, all the way to those who are thinking of doing something drastic.