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 in the South-East – a 50 per cent increase compared with 2017.
Five of these interventions were in West Sussex and one was in East Sussex.
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.
Use small talk to interrupt their suicidal thoughts
Members of the public are being encouraged to keep an eye out for someone who may be at risk, using the same small talk we use every day to interrupt someone’s suicidal thoughts and encourage them to get help.
That’s exactly what Network Rail incident controller Ben West, 30, did when he helped save a man’s life in south London.
Ben, 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’.”
TV and radio presenter, Gaby Roslin, has got involved with the new Small Talk Saves Lives campaign video and a special station announcement for rail commuters.
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.”
Passengers can have a key role to play in suicide prevention
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.”
If you do not feel comfortable or safe to intervene alert a member of rail staff or a police officer – many of whom have been trained by Samaritans – or call 999.
Warning signs to look out for
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.
For more information, visit www.samaritans.org/smalltalksaveslives