I’m a chatterbox. Always have been, always will be. Often people will ask how I find it so easy to talk to anyone and everyone but I guess it’s just part of the day job – I’m intrigued by folk and their stories. So I was pleased to discover that this trait could be put to good use on my commute into work.
A new suicide prevention campaign called Small Talk Save Lives has been launched by the Samaritans, British Transport Police and the rail industry encouraging passengers to act if they spot someone who might need emotional support – worryingly, a suicide occurs on our railways approximately every 36 hours.
The idea is that a short conversation with someone who may be struggling to cope can go a long way. This is what happened to Sarah Wilson* whose story is featured in the video above. The 28-year-old decided against taking her own life on a railway after a stranger reached out to her.
As many as 69% of rail users understand that a simple question could be enough to break the flow of negative and despairing thoughts occupying the mind of someone who is suicidal, research conducted on 5,000 people found.
The research, carried out on behalf of the campaign, also showed that although the majority of people would be willing to act, only 44% would be encouraged to approach someone if they knew they weren’t going to make the situation worse. And nearly nine out of ten thought a person in need of support would find it hard to ask for help.
So what can you do to help?
Become aware. Look around. Take a break from your phone or tablet.
Notice if a person is standing alone or isolated, looking distant or withdrawn, on the platform for a long time without boarding a train, or displaying something out of the ordinary in their behaviour or appearance.
Although there is no single sign or combination of behaviours that mean a person is suicidal, if something doesn’t feel right, the message is to act and respond in ways that people feel comfortable and safe with, Small Talk Saves Lives suggests.
Try approaching the person, asking them a question to distract them from their thoughts, or alerting a member of rail staff or calling the police.
“Someone showing me they cared about me helped to interrupt my suicidal thoughts and that gave them time to subside,” Sarah reveals.
“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.”
Suicide is ‘everybody’s business’, according to Samaritans chief executive officer Ruth Sutherland.
“Any one of us could have an opportunity to save a life,” she declares. “Research for this campaign showed 73% of the public would expect somebody to approach their loved one if they were upset in a public place… 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.”
Professor Rory O’Connor, a leading suicide prevention expert from the University of Glasgow, suggests it’s a myth that nothing can be done to prevent suicide.“We all have a role to play,” he insists.
I know I’ll certainly make an effort on my train journey into London tomorrow.
Last year, I hit rock bottom when my health started to deteriorate. Read the night it all began here. But I was lucky. I had my mum, my dad, my sister and a supportive network of friends around to help pull me through. Not everyone is so fortunate.
If you’re catching the train today, take a look around you.
Smile. Make eye contact. Be kind. Talk. You might just save a life.
For more information on Small Talk Saves Lives visit: www.samaritans.org/smalltalksaveslives
*Sarah’s name has been changed