Suicide prevention: “Make time to do the right thing.”

Suicide prevention: “Make time to do the right thing.”

Published 30 September 2020 | Average read time
7 min read
Stories Railway safety

Each September, we encourage people to work together to prevent suicides on the railway.

Many railway employees are trained to intervene when they see someone who may be at risk of suicide.

Samaritans is available round the clock, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you need a response immediately, it’s best to call on the phone.  You don’t have to be suicidal to call Samaritans.


Andrew, a mobile operations manager for Network Rail, took part in the Managing Suicidal Contacts training course in 2012. Two months later, he had to put what he learnt into practice.

“When I received a call from control to let me know that someone was on the tracks, I went to the scene as promptly as I could. I had dealt with people taking their lives on the railways before and thought this instance wouldn’t be any different.

Small Talk Saves Lives poster with the copy "Life saving question 1 - Do you need any help? This question was used by Andrew to help save a mans life in the North West of England"
The Small Talk Saves Lives suicide prevention campaign

“As soon as I saw him I thought back to my training from Samaritans, that I had only taken very recently. I knew that this was the time I had to employ the skills I learnt.

“I approached the man, who seemed to be confused and disorientated, but clearly in a state of despair. He told me that he wanted to die. I was nervous as I hadn’t been involved in a situation like this before, but the thoughts of my training gave me the confidence to speak to him. I told him that I had time to listen to him and asked him to come to my van with me. Thankfully, he agreed.

“I rang the police and ambulance but asked them to not use their sirens. I didn’t want the man to feel any more scared or in danger. As far as I was concerned, he wasn’t in trouble, I just wanted him to be safe.

“We sat in my van together, where I tried to speak to him and calm him down. He was still clearly distraught, as he kept saying he was useless and a coward.

“I began to feel uneasy when he seemed to get agitated, but I remained calm, and tried to remember the skills I had recently learnt. I specifically remembered from my training not to use the words ‘I know how you feel’, and in that time it was very apparent that I didn’t. I had never seen someone in such a low state of mind.

“As we waited for the emergency services, we spoke for about 20 minutes. I continually let him know that I was there for him and that I had time to talk. He told me that the day before, he had also attempted to take his own life, but I assured him that maybe there was a reason he was still alive. I asked him if he had anyone to talk to. When he said no I recommended Samaritans, although he said he didn’t feel like talking. When the police and paramedics arrived, he was sectioned and taken to hospital.

“After dealing with that particular man, I realise that someone who is suicidal is not in a rational state of mind. Although I don’t know the man personally, and don’t understand what experiences had lead him to that day, I could plainly see that he was in an extreme state of depression.

“Without the training from Samaritans, I would have tried my best to help the man, as I see it as part of my job. However, the training helped me remain calm and gave me confidence, as I felt as though I knew what I had to do. I hope that I will never be in a similar situation again, but if I do, I will be thankful that the Samaritans have enabled me manage it with confidence.”


Peter, a driver for East Midlands Trains, watched the Network Rail suicide prevention Learning Tool in June 2016, and explained how this prepared him to recognise a vulnerable person on the tracks.

“I saw a woman sitting on the ground… The guard buzzed me and asked if I’d seen her. We both agreed that she just didn’t look right. Her body language wasn’t that of a trespasser. She was sat in full view with her head down in her hands.

Small Talk Saves Lives poster. The poster is of a woman talking over a train tannoy system. The copy on the banner says "A little small talk can be all it takes to help start someone on a journey to recovery."
A little small talk can be all it takes to help start someone on a journey to recovery

“I wasn’t immediately sure what to do, but I called the controlling signaller to put a block on the line. This meant that an approaching train was held at the previous station.

“I walked back down the track to look for the woman but she had disappeared. At this point I thought I might have over reacted.

“However, back at the station, a young woman arrived and said, ‘Have you seen my mum?’. I said that I didn’t know her mum and asked what she looked like.

Once she had described her, I realised that her mum and my ‘trespasser’ were the same person. I explained where I’d seen her and asked what her mum’s situation was – her daughter just said ‘suicidal’.

“At this point the police arrived and it turned out that they had all been looking for her for several hours. British Transport Police arrived shortly afterwards and after a long search eventually found her.

“I think the main thing I would say to anyone is, trust your gut. Relax, slow down and make time to do the right thing – there are much worse things than a delay report.”


Nigel is a business improvement manager for Network Rail. In February 2017, Nigel was on his way to work when a distressed man caught his attention.

“I was walking from home to the Network Rail office; no one else was around and I saw a man sat on a bridge with his back to me and the hood of his coat covering his head.

A close up photograph of someones feet on the yellow safety line at a train station platform.

“As I approached, I noticed a strong smell of alcohol and saw that he was wearing a wedding ring; it also appeared he had been sleeping rough for a while.

“After a few attempts to gain his attention, he reluctantly responded, in a distant tone. His response was ‘it’s not happening, there’s no point in being here’. I stood in a place that made it more likely he would make eye contact with me. This clearly made him start to think about the situation he was in. He pulled back his hood to reveal an extremely swollen eye; he had received a beating recently. He was in his mid-40s.

“Just making eye contact with him and the fact that I had shown that someone cared about his actions moved him out of the ‘zone’. I put one hand on his shoulder. There was a distinct change in the man’s state of mind; he was becoming emotional and seemed not far off bursting into tears; he thanked me for stopping him.

“There were a few words between us at this point, which I can’t specifically recall, and those that I do remember are quite personal between him and me. It is hard to tell the length of time that I spent with him but I would estimate we spoke for between five to 10 minutes.

“I walked with him towards the station entrance where there were some people around and checked if he knew where to go for help and whether he had anyone to talk to. He confirmed that there were two people that he was going to contact and that he knew where to get further help. It was clear at this stage that he first wanted to be alone, out of sight, to cry his eyes out. I felt assured that he was going to seek help and we parted.”

If you need support, whatever you’re going through, call Samaritans for free any time, from any phone on 116 123.

Samaritans is available round the clock, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you need a response immediately, it’s best to call on the phone.  You don’t have to be suicidal to call Samaritans.