The quick actions of a Network Rail worker prevented a distressed man from taking his life in Slough and now he is supporting a new campaign that encourages others to look out for fellow passengers.
Commuters are being asked to take part in a suicide prevention campaign on the railways which could save many lives a year and involves 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 Great Western Railway, 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.
“I was in my office when a colleague told me there was someone who needed help near us,” said Bradley Coomber, a mobile operations manager for Network Rail.
“I immediately went out and saw a young man standing still with his hands by his sides and his head bowed. From his position and body language, I knew straight away that he was suicidal.
“I approached the man, asked if he was all right, and said he could come with me to my office. During the walk he was silent. It wasn’t until we got to my office that he started a conversation with me.”
“I could clearly see how distressed he was. We spoke until the emergency services arrived; and in that time he went from “wanting to die” to wondering why he “could do such a thing”. He was relieved that he did not carry out his initial intentions to take his own life, and was happy that I was there for him. He went with the paramedics willingly.
“Before he left with the paramedics, he shook my hand and gave me a hug. I may not have solved all his problems, but for one moment he had someone looking out for him which, I guess, was what he needed.
“Small talk can save lives and I would encourage anyone using the rail network to help keep their fellow passengers safe. If they do not have the confidence to approach them, they are encouraged to speak to a member of staff. Just stopping to talk to someone for a few minutes can make a huge difference and can help to save a life.”
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.”
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.