Make small talk and you could save a life
New campaign encourages public to intervene to help prevent railway suicides
Fewer than one fifth of the public realise that suicidal thoughts are temporary (17%)
Vast majority would help someone in distress on the railway if they knew they couldn’t make things worse (84.7%)
Over half of Scots (52.5%) say they’re good at small talk
The ScotRail Alliance is encouraging customers to take part in a new suicide prevention campaign on the railways which could save many lives a year.
The campaign, entitled Small Talk Saves Lives, launches today with the release of a short film encouraging members of the public to trust their instincts and look out for fellow passengers who might need help. It is being launched jointly by the Samaritans, the British Transport Police, and train companies all across Britain.
The video is based on the true story of Sarah Wilson (name changed)*, who felt suicidal and planned to take her life on the railway, but didn’t as somebody reached out to her.[i] In the clip, unsuspecting customers on a station platform initially think a station announcer is warning them of delays due to a suicide on the line, only to find out that they are listening to a story of hope and recovery, told by Sarah herself.
Small Talk Saves Lives aims to give travellers the confidence to act if they notice someone who may be at risk of suicide on or around the rail network. It draws on insights from successful interventions made by some of the 16,000 rail staff and British Transport Police officers who’ve been trained by the Samaritans in suicide prevention. For each life lost on the railway, six are saved.**
Susan Temple, who works at Johnstone ticket office, is one of the 1,500 ScotRail Alliance staff who have been trained by Samaritans. When she found a man in distress on a station platform, she was able to start a conversation with him that ultimately saved his life.
“When I first approached him, he was quiet and wouldn’t speak. I told him my name, but didn’t tell him I was a member of staff to make sure I didn’t worry him.
“He was very distressed and once he started talking, he spoke really quickly. He told me that the only way out for him was to take his life.
“I was able to signal to an oncoming train to slow down and walked to the driver and told him about the situation. I went back to the young man and continued to talk to him. He felt so down that he believed that everyone would be better off if he wasn’t here.”
Susan was able to contact the police, who took the young man into their care.
The campaign has the backing of the leading suicide prevention expert Professor Rory O’Connor from the University of Glasgow.
Professor O’Connor said:
“I am pleased to support Samaritans’ new campaign, Small Talk Saves Lives. It aims to tackle one of the myths around suicide and its prevention: namely, that there is nothing we can do to prevent suicide. There is, and we all have a role to play. It is great to see this campaign encouraging people to reach out if they think someone may be suicidal. It could save lives.”
Sarah Wilson said:
“Someone showing that they cared about me helped to interrupt my suicidal thoughts and that gave them time to subside.
“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.’
Samaritans CEO Ruth Sutherland said:
“Suicide is everybody’s business and any one of us could have an opportunity to save a life.
“Research for this campaign showed 73 per cent of the public would expect somebody to approach their loved one if they were upset in a public place.
“We have worked carefully with the public, rail travellers and those bereaved by suicide to ensure that this campaign is delivered sensitively but with real impact. 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.”
David Lister, ScotRail Alliance sustainability & safety assurance director, said:
“Every suicide on the railway is a preventable tragedy, and everyone who travels by train can help – simply by looking out for each other. If someone seems distressed, why not go over and strike up conversation with them?
“It might seem daunting, but that one simple question can be all it takes to interrupt their suicidal thoughts. You don’t need training to be able to make a difference, just imagine it was one of your loved ones.”
British Transport Police Chief Constable, Paul Crowther, national strategic policing lead for suicide prevention, said:
“Our officers make lifesaving interventions on the railway every day, together with rail staff and members of the public.
“We know from experience that when someone is in distress, simply engaging them in conversation can make all the difference and help set them on the road to recovery. It makes sense to let the public know that this simple act can help.
“We’re not suggesting people intervene if they don’t feel comfortable or safe to do so. They can tell a member of rail staff or a police officer – many of whom have been trained by Samaritans – or call 999.”
Due to the proven link between certain types of media reporting of suicide and increases in suicide rates, please be mindful of Samaritans’ Media Guidelines for Reporting Suicide and Rail Suicide factsheet.
Anyone can contact Samaritans for free any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit, and the number won’t show up on your phone bill. Or email [email protected] or go to www.samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch where you can talk to one of our trained volunteers face to face.
The rail industry and British Transport Police (BTP) work in partnership with Samaritans to reduce suicides on the railway. Our suicide prevention programme includes training railway employees and BTP staff to look out for and offer support to people who may be considering suicide and working within the wider community to de-stigmatise suicide and promote help-seeking behaviour. To date almost 16,000 rail staff and BTP officers across the UK have received suicide prevention training.
- * Sarah Wilson’s name has been changed and her role in the video is played by an actor.
- ** In 2016/17, there were 6.7 potentially life-saving interventions made for every suicide or suspected suicide on the railway. Figures calculated using data from the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) and British Transport Police (BTP).
About Small Talk Saves Lives
Small Talk Saves Lives has been developed after research showed passengers have a key role to play in suicide prevention - further research found that almost 9 out of 10 (87.4%) would approach someone who may be suicidal if they knew the signs to look out for, what to say, and that they wouldn’t make the situation worse.
While most people were aware that suicidal thoughts can be interrupted by something as simple as a question (70.5%), very few knew that such thoughts can be temporary (17%).
The Small Talk Saves Lives campaign aims to give passengers the knowledge and reassurance that they can make a difference. It also encourages them to notice what may be warning signs, such as a person:
- standing alone and isolated
- looking distant or withdrawn
- staying on the platform a long time without boarding a train
- 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 public are being encouraged to respond in a way they feel comfortable and safe with.