Every 90 minutes someone in the UK takes their life – something the rail industry is trying to prevent.

World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) on 10 September seeks to recognise deaths globally and galvanise people to work together to stop them. This year’s theme is ‘working together to prevent suicide’.

The rail industry has worked with charity Samaritans and British Transport Police to stop these deaths for the past 10 years.

Watch this film about how a little small talk can save a life:

Find out more about the Small Talk Saves Lives campaign.

Preventing suicides on the railway

Suicide prevention campaigns

Not inevitable

Ian Stevens, a programme manager at Network Rail who has overseen our work in this area for seven years, has first-hand experience of suicides.

He knows how devastating they can be for the friends and family of those who have taken their lives and for those that have witnessed them.

Thirty years ago, while working as a train crew manager, a colleague driver never returned to work after witnessing a suicide.

Ian said: “It was a devastating blow for everyone concerned at the depot and we just accepted it as part of the job that we did – the inevitability of suicides on the railway and our inability to stop them.”

A little small talk can be all it takes to help start someone on a journey to recovery

Today, Ian looks at suicides on the railway very differently. He said: “Things like WSPD are enormously important in helping break the taboo around suicide and helping us realise that suicide isn’t inevitable and that we can all do something to support someone in emotional crisis. The theme of WSPD this year is all about that.”

Training across the railway

Almost 20,000 railway staff have received suicide prevention training, which last year alone led to support given to more than 2,200 people.

Anyone can prevent a suicide, however. We can all play a part by listening to colleagues, friends and loved ones who may have issues that they’re struggling to cope with. Often even asking a simple question like “Are you okay?” can be enough to help support someone.

Listening is a powerful tool that can really help someone struggling to resolve personal issues.

These five tips – known as SHUSH – can help you become a great listener:

  • Show you care: focus just on the other person, make eye contact and put away your phone
  • Have patience: it may take time and several attempts before a person is ready to open up
  • Use open questions: that need more than a yes or no answer, and follow up, e.g. ‘tell me more’
  • Say it back: to check you’ve understood but don’t interrupt or offer a solution
  • Have courage: don’t be put off by a negative response and, most importantly, don’t be afraid to leave silence.

Industry-wide efforts

Social interaction with those in crisis is by far the best way to support them but the rail industry does much more than that. For example, in the past year we have:

  • commissioned bespoke academic research to better understand why people come to the railway to take their lives so that we can tailor our support appropriately
  • created a dedicated website, the launch of which has been timed to coincide with WSPD, to share information about rail suicide with our staff and the public to destigmatise the issue
  • worked with companies outside the rail sector to promote that ‘suicide is not inevitable’ message.

Our future plans involve:

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  • further significant promotion of our highly successful Small Talk Saves Lives campaign in cinemas, on television and across social media channels
  • greater use of social media to identify those in crisis and to reach them
  • creating a dedicated partnership with a mental health charity so that we can better support those who come to the railway in mental health crisis.

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.