Small talk can save lives… campaigners say interventions have cut suicides by 50 per cent


Bognor Regis residents have been urged to consider using small talk we use every day to interrupt someone’s suicidal thoughts and encourage them to get help.

The message comes as new statistics reveal a 50 per cent increase in the number of times the public has acted to prevent a suicide on the railways in the south east.

Following the launch of Small Talk Saves Lives by Samaritans in partnership with British Transport Police (BTP), Network Rail last year, new figures show there were 16 interventions by members of the public so far this year in the South-East –  50 per cent up on 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.

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 is 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 presenter Gaby Roslin is backing the campaign with 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.”

About the Author

Carl Eldridge
Carl Eldridge is a hugely experienced journalist who has worked on local and national newspapers, magazines and written for websites over the past 30 years. He lives in Bognor Regis with his wife and son.