The Samaritans, the charity that helps those in emotional need, says it received a spike in calls last night when the suicide of long-serving character Hayley Cropper was broadcast on Coronation Street.
The charity said that calls to its helpline between 5pm yesterday (Monday 20 January) and 5am this morning (Tuesday 21 January) were 30 per cent higher than during the same period last week. It was unable to describe their nature because of its strict rules on client confidentiality.
Catherine Johnstone, Chief Executive of Samaritans, said: “Our initial results show that calls to our , although these are only partial figures. While some of this increase may have been a result of the Coronation Street storyline, we are also aware that calls to Samaritans are heavier than usual at this time of year. January is a tough month for many people, with the bills from the Christmas and New Year holidays falling onto the doormat. There is also a tendency among some people not to focus on their problems over the festive season, but they will often be struggling with them again once the holidays are over.”
She added: “We are pleased that the Coronation Street production team acted responsibly by consulting with Samaritans about this controversial storyline. Our two decades of experience of advising the media about issues surrounding the portrayal of suicide, led to Hayley’s death and the devastation of her partner Roy being handled in a sensitive way. The inclusion of Samaritans ‘ contact details at the end of the episode was helpful in encouraging those who were affected by the programme to get in touch.
The spike follows the culmination of the storyline on the ITV soap, but the charity added that reports it had 20,000 counsellors on standby were inaccurate. He said that while The Samaritans does have this number of registered volunteers, it is never able to martial all of them at once because it does not have sufficient telephones.
The Samaritans had already issued a statement warning that dramatisations of suicide could result in copycat behaviour if they were not appropriately handled.
Rachel Kirby-Rider, Executive Director of Fundraising and Communications, said: “There is extensive research which demonstrates that inappropriate portrayal, or reporting, of suicide can lead to imitative or ‘copycat’ behaviour among vulnerable people.
“For this reason, Samaritans publish media guidelines on the portrayal of suicide and has been working with the media for more than two decades.”
The charity added that it worked with ITV on the Hayley storyline – which saw Julie Hesmondhalgh’s character down a lethal cocktail in the company of her husband Roy (David Neilson) – and echoed the reaction of millions of viewers to the responsible way in which the poignant and dramatic storyline was handled.
“We were pleased that Coronation Street came to us for guidance on their storyline of character ‘Hayley’ ending her life, as a result of her terminal illness. Our role was to help them to cover this as safely as possible, not to approve their decision to run the story at all.
“Samaritans believes that shutting down coverage of suicide is unhelpful, as this could drive discussion underground and deter people from talking about their problems.
“It is important that programme makers continue to consult with us, whenever touching on suicide as a subject matter. The consequence of not getting it right poses significant risk, we can help make sure this is done in a safe and responsible way.”
The second episode last night drew an averaged 8.81 million, not including ITV HD and ITV+1, and peaked at 10.2 million, including HD and ITV+1 for the second episode in which the character died. This is the best performance for Coronation Street this year.