New statistics reveal a 50 per cent increase in the number of times the public has acted to prevent a suicide on the railway in the south east.
Following the launch of Small Talk Saves Lives by Samaritans in partnership with British Transport Police (BTP), Network Rail and the wider rail industry late last year, new figures show there were 16 interventions by members of the public so far this year – a 50 per cent increase compared with 2017.
There were seven interventions in Kent from April to September this year, five in West Sussex, three in Surrey and 1 in East Sussex – more than for the whole of 2017 when there were 11.
The figures coincide with the launch of a new phase of Small Talk Saves Lives, which emphasises how each of us has the experience we need to help save a life. If we notice someone who may be at risk, the same small talk we use every day is enough to interrupt someone’s suicidal thoughts and encourage them to get help. So, trust your instincts and start a conversation; you can’t make things worse.
That’s exactly what Network Rail incident controller Ben West, 30, did when he helped save a man’s life in south London.
Ben, from Kingston, who is based at the Three Bridges rail operating centre near Crawley, said: “I was on duty as a mobile operations manager on station patrol and I happened to be in the right place at the right time.
“The Samaritans training teaches you to look for people who are in isolation, people under the influence of drink and drugs, and those with vacant expressions who are not fitting in with the wider scene around them.
“This person ticked all of those boxes, so I went up to them and put myself in a position where I could physically intervene if they tried to jump and then started asking some normal, ice-breaking questions.
‘How are you today? What train are you trying to get?’ After a few questions I felt confident enough that I had built up a rapport with this person to say ‘I know what you’re going to do, I know you’re thinking of committing suicide’.
“He nodded and tears started to go down his face. I said kindly ‘why don’t you come have a chat with me, we’ll go somewhere private and we can just talk’.”
Ben West talks about saving a man's life in South London
National campaign video
There is a new Small Talk Saves Lives campaign video and a special station announcement for rail commuters across the UK, voiced by TV and radio presenter, Gaby Roslin, who got involved after stopping to talk to someone in a park when she noticed something wasn’t right.
Gaby said: “The little conversations we have every day can be all that’s needed to interrupt suicidal thoughts. Once you know that you have the power to make a difference, you’re more likely to step in and do something. I wanted to get involved in the Small Talk Saves Lives campaign after noticing someone in a park and trusting my instincts. Just a few words can have a huge impact.”
Small Talk Saves Lives was developed after research showed passengers could have a key role to play in suicide prevention, along with the thousands of rail staff and British Transport Police now trained by Samaritans.**
For every life lost on the railway, six are saved by those around them.***
Samaritans CEO Ruth Sutherland said: “It’s really heartening to see more members of the public feeling they have the confidence and knowledge to act if they’re worried about someone, and we’re grateful for their support. Suicide is preventable and any one of us could have an opportunity to save a life. And a study shows some of us make small talk more than ten times a day.****
“A phrase as simple as, ‘I can’t believe this weather’, could be enough to interrupt a person’s suicidal thoughts. Even if small talk doesn’t come naturally to you, if something doesn’t feel right, please try to start a conversation. There’s no evidence you’ll make things worse.”
Jackie Doyle-Price, Minister for Mental Health, Inequalities and Suicide Prevention, added: “It’s easy to understand why people might feel uncomfortable or shy about approaching a stranger when they notice something is not quite right. But, when you realise speaking up could have the power to save someone’s life, our own personal discomfort quickly seems insignificant.
“It’s promising to see the success of the Small Talk Saves Lives campaign so far and I look forward to seeing it continue to make a real difference.”
Head of Suicide Prevention at Network Rail, Ian Stevens, said: “We’re working hard across the rail industry to inform both our staff and customers of the important role they can play in suicide prevention, not only on the railway but in their communities too. One life lost is one too many; we want to highlight how suicidal thoughts can be interrupted, and that people can and do recover. Realising another person cares enough to stop and talk to you can make all the difference. It can be the first step on that road to recovery.”
British Transport Police Chief Constable, Paul Crowther, national strategic policing lead for suicide prevention, said: “We know from our officers’ experiences that when someone is at risk on the railway, simply engaging them in conversation can make all the difference and help set them on the road to recovery. Together with Network Rail and Samaritans, we’re highlighting to the public that the small talk the public do so naturally every day really can help. We’re also encouraging those who don’t feel comfortable or safe to intervene to tell a member of rail staff or a police officer – many of whom have been trained by Samaritans – or call 999.”
Small Talk Saves Lives encourages rail 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 to involving other passengers, alerting a member of rail staff or calling the police. Physical interventions are not recommended.
Samaritans volunteers will be out in force at stations across the UK to help promote the campaign.
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.