Last year, charity Samaritans launched a campaign highlighting the crucial difference that small talk can have on railways – a year later there has been a 20 per cent increase in the number of lives saved.
The national suicide charity reported that their Small Talk Save Lives campaign has seen 163 interventions made on the railways between January and September this year – up a fifth from the previous year.
Samaritans’ push asks commuters to ask simple questions and make small talk with vulnerable people on platforms across the UK in a bid to interrupt suicidal thoughts.
— Dept for Transport (@transportgovuk) November 7, 2018
Even a simple chat about the weather or asking how someone is can be enough to make a huge difference – for every life lost on the railway, six are saved by those around them.
Gillian Assor from Hertfordshire is one of the commuters who have helped save a life while out walking her dog with her husband near their home one evening.
“It was getting dark and as we were walking I noticed a young man, he was bent over and sobbing, and in a place where he could have come to harm. I couldn’t just walk past him. I said, ‘Excuse me, are you okay?’ And he replied straightaway, ‘No, I’m not’.”
Gillian carried on talking to the young man. He gradually became calmer and eventually called his parents, who came to take him home. A few weeks later, he contacted Gillian through social media and she and her husband went to meet him. “You saved my life,” he said.
The Big Issue has inspired the launch of 120 street papers globally, including sister titles in Australia, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.
Now the campaign is ramping up with a special station announcement from TV presenter Gaby Roslin to be played at stations to remind passengers of the role they can play.
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.”
Of course, it is not just on the railways where small talk can change lives. Big Issue vendors constantly tell us about the power of just a few words. Even selling the magazine on the busiest high street can be a lonely job, but you have the ability to change their day with just a quick hello.
As Paul McNamee, Big Issue editor, put it when he wrote about the campaign last year: “Don’t let the moment pass. Act. Speak. Start with ‘hello’ and busk it from there. You could change a life.”