Samaritans relaunches ‘Small Talk Saves Lives’ campaign as society opens up

·4-min read
A general view of Marylebone Station, central London. (Nick Ansell/PA) (PA Archive)
A general view of Marylebone Station, central London. (Nick Ansell/PA) (PA Archive)

Public transport users are being encouraged chat to someone if they suspect something is not right, as part of a nationwide suicide prevention campaign.

As coronavirus restrictions ease and more people start travelling, passengers are being reminded that they can play a key role in suicide prevention.

A simple question such as “Hello, what’s the time?” or a smile can be enough to interrupt someone’s suicidal thoughts and save a life, according to the Samaritans Small Talk Saves Lives campaign.

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The campaign, with Network Rail and the British Transport Police was initially launched in 2017 and is being relaunched as society opens up to remind the public that they still have the skills to help prevent suicide.

It is backed by associate professor Lisa Marzano, a suicide prevention expert from Middlesex University who co-authored a 2020 study which identified small talk, listening and a smile from a stranger as the more helpful ways the public can intervene.

New polling for the campaign found that more than three quarters (78%) of the nation have continued to make small talk with strangers during pandemic restrictions,

Around a fifth (19%) said they would be more likely to make small talk when restrictions end, the YouGov survey of 2,224 UK adults in July found.

Half of these people said the pandemic has made them recognise the importance of human connection.

Overall, more than half (57%) said small talk can make people feel less lonely, boost their mental health and wellbeing (45%) and show that others care and want to help them (28%).

Dom Mottram, a Network Rail employee, was considering taking his life when a woman approached him and asked him a question, “snapping him out of harming himself in the moment”.

Now 32, he said: “I’m thankful for the ripple effect of that lady saving my life – without her stopping and checking if I was OK, I might not be here to now look out for and save others.

“I’m always on the lookout for anyone who might need help. If I see someone who looks out of place or a bit down, I often just go over and ask if they’re all right and try and bring them to a place of safety.

“Nine times out of ten the person is absolutely fine – but trusting my instincts and talking to that one person can make such a difference.”

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Samaritans chief executive Julie Bentley said: “How people act when they are struggling to cope is different for everyone – people may seem distant or upset, but suicidal thoughts are often temporary – so if something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts and try and start a conversation.

“Whether that’s on a journey home from work as we start to travel more or someone you may pass in the street – any one of us could have an opportunity to save a life.”

Rupert Lown, chief health and safety officer at Network Rail, added: “As lockdown restrictions lift, it’s essential that we continue to take care of ourselves and each other.”

British Transport Police assistant chief constable Charlie Doyle, national policing lead for suicide prevention, said: “When our officers make lifesaving interventions, they may simply start by saying hello and engaging the person in conversation.

“There’s no magic formula for what to say – I’ve heard of officers chatting about the weather or the football.

“What I’d like the public to take from this campaign is that everyone has the ability to make a difference.”

Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “We have all been through a year of difficulty, many feeling cut off from friends and family, so it is more important than ever for people to look out for each other.

“The work that Samaritans is doing on our rail network is vitally important to so many people. It is incredibly reassuring to see how comforting just a few small words can be to those struggling.”

The Samaritans can be reached by phone for free on 116 123, day or night, or they can be emailed at jo@samaritans.org.

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