Milton Keynes passengers encouraged to make small talk to save lives

New campaign encourages public to intervene to help prevent railway suicides

Commuters in the Milton Keynes area are being asked to take part in a new suicide prevention campaign on the railways which could save many lives a year and would involve them spotting vulnerable people and talking to them to interrupt their suicidal thoughts.

Samaritans, British Transport Police (BTP) and the rail industry, including Network Rail and the train operating companies, are launching Small Talk Saves Lives to give travellers the confidence to act if they notice someone who may be at risk of suicide on or around the rail network.

Small Talk Saves Lives is asking the public to trust their instincts and look out for fellow passengers who might need help, as illustrated in a new film that has gone live today.

By highlighting that suicidal thoughts can be temporary and interrupted with something as simple as a question, the campaign aims to give the public the tools to spot a potentially vulnerable person, start a conversation with them, and help save a life.

Small Talk Saves Lives has been developed after research showed passengers have a key role to play in suicide prevention. Further research showed the majority are willing to act, but many wanted guidance on how to help, and reassurance they wouldn’t ‘make things worse’.

The campaign draws on insights from successful interventions made by some of the 16,000 rail staff and BTP officers who’ve been trained by Samaritans in suicide prevention. For each life lost on the railway, six are saved. The hope is that by appealing to members of the public, the number of life-saving interventions being made across Britain will increase further.

A survey of people who travel by train, carried out for the campaign, revealed more than 4 out of 5 would approach someone who may be suicidal if they knew the signs to look out for, what to say, and that they wouldn’t make the situation worse. An even higher number, nearly 9 out of 10, thought a person in need of support would find it hard to ask for help.

Small Talk Saves Lives encourages passengers to notice what may be warning signs e.g. a person standing alone and isolated, looking distant or withdrawn, staying on the platform a long time without boarding a train or displaying something out of the ordinary in their behaviour or appearance. There is no single sign or combination of behaviours that mean a person is suicidal but, if something doesn’t feel right, the message is to act.

The emphasis is on responding in ways people feel comfortable and safe with. Different courses of action are suggested, depending on the situation and the response. They range from approaching the person and asking them a question to distract them from their thoughts, or alerting a member of rail staff or calling the police.

Sarah Wilson felt suicidal and planned to take her life on the railways, but didn’t as somebody reached out to her. Her story inspired the making of a video to promote the campaign, where unsuspecting passengers on a train platform initially think a station announcer is warning them of delays due to a suicide on the line, only to find out that they are listening to a story of hope and recovery, told by Sarah herself.

Sarah Wilson said: “Someone showing that they cared about me helped to interrupt my suicidal thoughts and that gave them time to subside. The more that people understand that suicide is preventable, the better. I hope people will share the video and that the campaign will encourage people to trust their gut instincts and start a conversation if they think someone could need help. You won’t make things worse, and you could save a life.’

The campaign was also developed in consultation with people who have been personally affected by suicide, including where a loved one has taken their life on the railways. The initiative also has the backing of the leading suicide prevention expert, Professor Rory O’Connor, from the University of Glasgow.

Professor O’Connor said: “I am pleased to support Samaritans’ new campaign, Small Talk Saves Lives.  It aims to tackle one of the myths around suicide and its prevention: namely, that there is nothing we can do to prevent suicide. There is, and we all have a role to play. It is great to see this campaign encouraging people to reach out if they think someone may be suicidal. It could save lives.” 

Samaritans CEO Ruth Sutherland said; ‘Suicide is everybody’s business and any one of us could have an opportunity to save a life. Research for this campaign showed 73% of the public would expect somebody to approach their loved one if they were upset in a public place.** We have worked carefully with the public, rail travellers and those bereaved by suicide to ensure that this campaign is delivered sensitively but with real impact. The knowledge and skills to save lives in the rail environment can be applied to many other situations. We hope that Small Talk Saves Lives is the start of a much wider conversation about how suicide is preventable.”

Ian Stevens from Network Rail, who manages the suicide prevention programme on behalf of the rail industry, said: “Given that nearly five million journeys are made by train every day, we are asking for passengers to work alongside our staff as the eyes and ears of the railway, helping us to keep everybody safe.  If it were your loved one, a daughter or son, husband or wife who was going through an emotional crisis, wouldn’t you hope that somebody took the time to stop and ask if they were ok? Even if in doubt, you can always report concerns to a member of staff or a police officer, but please act if your instinct is telling you that something is wrong.”

British Transport Police Chief Constable, Paul Crowther, national strategic policing lead for suicide prevention, said: “Our officers make lifesaving interventions on the railway every day, together with rail staff and members of the public. We know from experience that when someone is in distress, simply engaging them in conversation can make all the difference and help set them on the road to recovery. It makes sense to let the public know that this simple act can help. We’re not suggesting people intervene if they don’t feel comfortable or safe to do so. They can tell a member of rail staff or a police officer – many of whom have been trained by Samaritans – or call 999.”

Steve Helfet, head of West Coast services for London Midland, said: “The message is very clear- the smallest conversation can save a life. It’s that simple – you can save a life with just a few simple words. Those words can make a person feel valued and connected again. Just a few words to save a life.”

Find out more about Small Talk Saves Lives at: www.samaritans.org/smalltalksaveslives. You can also support by following the campaign @samaritanscharity on Instagram or sharing the video on Twitter @samaritans or Facebook at www.facebook.com/samaritanscharity, using the hashtag #SmallTalkSavesLives.

A press pack is available at https://www.samaritans.org/small-talk-press-pack.

For further information and interview requests, please contact:

Samaritans’ Press Office 020 8394 8300 or press@samaritans.org

Network Rail Rachel Groves on 0330 854 0100 

British Transport Police Media Relations team 0300 123 9104 or Mediarelations@btp.pnn.police.uk