By Isabella Lock, a freelance journalist with an interest in mental health and cultural identity

CW: This essay deals with death by suicide and the trauma from surviving a loved one’s fatal suicide, which may be triggering to some readers. Please proceed with caution. If you need immediate assistance, please follow this link to International Suicide Hotlines. If you are in the UK or the Republic of Ireland, you can contact the Samaritans mentioned in this essay 24/7 via phone call (116 123), email (, letter (Freepost SAMARITANS LETTERS), or use their self-help app.

Dave wearing a telephone costume with Samaritans written across the top

While I cannot go back in time and change the past, I can help to prevent this terrible loss from happening to others. If running the marathon saves just one life, then it would have been more than worth it.

For as long as I can remember, my dad has been running marathons dressed as Dave the Running Telephone for the Samaritans. This UK-based charity works to ensure that fewer people die by suicide by reducing the risk factors that make some people more likely to take their lives, ensuring that people who are at increased risk of suicide are supported, making it less likely that people who do experience suicidal thoughts act on them, and reducing the likelihood that people will develop suicidal thoughts.

As the 2024 TCS London Marathon Charity of the Year, the Samaritans aims to raise £1.7 million to maintain their mental health services.

In the past year, I increasingly wondered where it all began – my dad’s marathon obsession. He explained that he always had a passion for running. He soon became addicted to the camaraderie among like-minded people, the cheering crowds, and the emotional roller-coaster of marathons. 

Having supported my dad at every London Marathon, I can absolutely confirm that there is a sort of magic in the air. I know that no matter the weather or one’s mood, the London Marathon is always a day full of joy and love for both participants and spectators. 

As for the choice of charity, my dad tells me that it goes back to when he reached out to the Samaritans in his own times of despair. 

They listened without judgement and helped my father feel a little less alone. It was then that he realised the power of listening and chose to become a helpline volunteer himself. He became increasingly passionate about their work and aspired to make as many people aware of the Samaritans as possible. 

And so he got creative. He merged his two passions, running and the Samaritans, to produce “Dave the Running Telephone.”  By running marathons in a life-sized green telephone, my dad became an iconic mascot associated with the Samaritans and, in turn, created a huge profile for the charity.

On the streets, the telephone captures the attention of all and allows my dad to speak one-on-one with gathered spectators. Every year someone pulls my dad to the side and tells him how they have battled with suicide or lost someone from it. My dad always offers support and a shoulder to cry on. In doing so, my father creates an image of the Samaritans as a group of real people wanting to help people feel a little less alone in their hardships.  

My dad has also spoken every year on the radio with Eddie Nester about his charity work for over four years. The uniqueness of my father’s telephone costume marathons hooks listeners in and spreads awareness of suicide prevention.

A white board with a lap tally leans against a brick wall.

My dad has maintained his annual tradition of running the London Marathon in costume for 24 years. Even during the pandemic. But instead of the bustling streets of the city, he took to our garden patio and ran back and forth a whopping 2,175 times.

I have profound respect for my father, and to run alongside him has always been a goal of mine.

However, unlike my father, I have never been truly passionate about running. Consequently, I have always found excuses here and there to hold off participating.

But then, earlier this year, my paternal uncle sadly took his own life. I realized then that I had to stop making excuses, get over my lack of love for running, and complete the marathon alongside my dad. 

While I cannot go back in time and change the past, I can help to prevent this terrible loss from happening to others. If running the marathon saves just one life, then it would have been more than worth it.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Many push through emotional turmoil alone in silence, contributing to a further decline in their mental well-being. The 2023 report from National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Safety in Mental Health revealed that 73% of people who died by suicide between 2010 and 2020 in the UK were not in contact with mental health services in the year before they died. I believe these services are necessary, do make a difference, and ultimately save lives. 

The NHS (UK free healthcare system) funding for suicide prevention measures will end by March next year. Measures included suicide prevention training for GPs and non-mental health professionals and have been effective according to recipients. Moreover, a new study has revealed that one in four people with mental health problems have to wait a minimum of three months to start NHS treatment. Although private therapy is available in the UK to avoid long waiting times, the cost of one session can be up to £70. 

In other words, national mental health services are simply not accessible to all. However, helplines offer 24/7 free support to everyone. 

Still, maintaining the helpline is no easy task. Every 10 seconds, a volunteer responds to a call for help. If we want to prevent suicide, through monetary aid or awareness, we need to continue supporting charities like the Samaritans, Shout (for folks who prefer to receive support through text), Papyrus HOPELINEUK (for folks under the age of 35), the Community Advice and Listening Line (for folks in Wales), and Switchboard (for folks who identify as LGBTQ+, available from 10 am-10 pm daily).

We also need to break the stigma around mental health and suicide. In 2021 alone, over 5,000 suicides were registered in the UK. Yet, we are not talking enough about it. 

By training for and running the marathon, my father and I aim to initiate conversations about suicide and mental health. We intend to achieve this by talking to people both personally and in the media. 

My dad and I have also had the chance to speak on BBC Radio London about the marathon and the helpline. Moreover, our father-daughter marathon journey has caught the attention of newspapers across the UK, including The Independent.

The more suicide and mental health are spoken about both in casual conversation and in the media, the less stigmatised they will be.

We also want everyone to know that no one is truly alone and that there is always someone to listen. 

This World Suicide Prevention Day, I would like to invite you to join me and ask that you think and talk openly about suicide this September and continue the conversation throughout the year. By talking more about it, we can collectively erase the fears and discomfort that we all too often feel when talking about our struggles. 

I dream that we all may become samaritans to each other, listening without judgement and offering support in this all too often intense world.

My uncle used to support my dad at the end of the London Marathon at Embankment Station. On 21st April 2024, after 26 miles of tears, joy, and laughter, I imagine I will feel a sense of honour and pride in completing my first marathon alongside my dad in my home city. And I like to think that when we both look up at the finish line, we will see my uncle cheering us on.

Isabella Lock

Isabella Lock

Isabella (she/her) is a freelance journalist with an interest in mental health and culture. Her written work has been published in The Independent and Metro. Isabella has also co-produced a short film and independently released a podcast. All her work can be found here: @Isabellalock | Linktree and Isabella can be contacted via Instagram: @isabellalock_journoIf you are interested in supporting the Samaritans, please see here: