New campaign encourages public to intervene to help prevent railway suicides in the South East.
Commuters in the South East 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.
Antony Warne, who works for Network Rail contractors Land Sheriffs in South East London and Kent, has intervened in six potential suicides and has since become a Samaritans volunteer.
He said: “Sometimes we get called to incidents where we know someone is trying to take their own life, but other times we come upon them ourselves. It’s an incredible feeling when you have saved someone’s life and I was inspired to volunteer with the Samaritans as a result of doing my job.
“We cannot be everywhere and anyone who is travelling on the railway can help by looking out for each other.”
And he added: “Since being involved in the Interventions and sitting both external training courses that Samaritans have to offer it has given me a great interest into the work that they do. Because of this I have since become a listening volunteer in my local branch.”
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.
Network Rail incident control officer Ben West, who works in Three Bridges, was on a station patrol one day in South London when he spotted a man standing on a platform, staring into space, with beer cans at his feet. He said: “I asking him ice-breaking questions, like ‘how are you today? What train are you going to get, where are you heading to’… just to build a bit of rapport. The nature of the questions was open as I needed him to speak to me.
“After a few generic questions I felt confident enough and had built up enough rapport to state to him directly “I know what you’re going to do’. He nodded and tears started falling down his face. I said to him why don’t we go and have a chat, and I took him to the station office.”
Sarah Wilson – not her real name – 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.
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.”
Samaritans CEO Ruth Sutherland said; “Suicide is everybody’s business and any one of us could have an opportunity to save a life. 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.”
Ian Stevens will be available at London Victoria, where the Samaritans film is showing on the big screens on Wednesday, November 15, between 0900-1000. Antony Warne and other spokespeople will be available from 1100 at the same location.