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Samaritans Guest Blog: The Life Saving Importance Of Small Talk

Article written by Samaritans

Whether you love to chit-chat or would rather avoid a conversation with someone you don’t know – a few words, however small, can make a huge difference to someone who may be struggling. It may even help save their life. Here’s what you need to know about Samaritans’ Small Talk Saves Lives campaign, which is relaunching in August as the nation prepares to readjust to life following pandemic restrictions, and why it’s so important we look out for one another.

Samaritans has worked in partnership with Network Rail and the wider rail industry for over 10 years to reduce suicides on the railways and support those affected by them.

The charity delivers suicide prevention training to rail staff and British Transport Police – giving more than 22,000 staff the confidence and skills to be able to help someone in need. While the training is designed for the rail industry, the central idea of using small talk to interrupt a person’s suicidal thoughts is simple yet effective - something everyone can do and can be used across a range of scenarios.

Jason Alexandre, Samaritans’ Network Rail training officer, explains more:

“It’s my role to provide people with the tools and confidence to be able to recognise someone who might need help and know how to approach them by starting up a simple conversation to get them to safety.

“Any intervention is better than none and it’s using skills they already have, in simply having a conversation that could potentially help save a life.”

Shona Gibbs, Samaritans’ Senior Project Manager for the Network Rail partnership, further elaborates:

“Research showed that the public could also have a big part to play in making interventions and saving lives. Small Talk Saves Lives aims to empower the public to trust their instincts if they think someone is vulnerable and recognise that they already have all it takes to save a life – just a little bit of small talk is enough to interrupt their suicidal thoughts and may be the help they need.”

Jason continues: “The pandemic has added to the pressures people face this year and it's shown just how important it is for us to support each other and provide a listening ear to those who may have been struggling - you too could help be there for someone and potentially save a life.

“At Samaritans, we are concerned for the long-term implications of the pandemic, particularly as the links between recessions, unemployment and suicide risk are well known – so support in these times is essential. As restrictions ease and people may be feeling anxious, it's so important we look after our mental health and others by checking in and encouraging people to reach out for support, whether it's with a friend, a colleague, or a confidential helpline like Samaritans. No matter what you're going through, Samaritans volunteers are available 25 hours a day, 365 days a year. Call on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org"

How to approach someone at risk in public

How people act when they are struggling to cope is different for everyone. Common signs include looking distant, withdrawn, or upset or in an isolated spot.

Think SAM

START the conversation - Small talk is a great start. You can ask them if they are okay, comment on the weather, introduce yourself and encourage them to talk. There may be some silences before they respond, but just try to be yourself.

ALERT others - You don’t have to manage this alone. If you’re at a train station, get the attention of a member of staff, ask a passer-by to alert someone or call the police. Ask the person if there’s someone you can call for them.

MOVE them to safety - Encourage them to sit down somewhere safe and quiet, you can suggest a hot drink. You could mention sources of help, including Samaritans and their GP, as well as friends and family.

What to say

You might be worried that you’ll make things worse, but there’s no evidence to suggest that you will.

There’s no right or wrong way to approach someone. Trust your instincts and remember that you chat with people every day. You may still be helping even if you don’t get a response right away. Simply talking to someone and interrupting their thoughts may be all it takes to encourage them to reach out for support.

Use simple questions such as ‘It’s a warm evening isn’t it?’, ‘What’s your name?’ or ‘Do you need any help?’

If the situation is an emergency or if you don’t feel it’s safe to make an approach, call 999 – don’t make physical contact.

Looking after yourself

Your help can make a huge difference, but it might impact you too. You might feel emotional afterwards and you might what to talk about what’s happened.

Anyone can contact Samaritans, free, any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit. This number won’t show up on your phone bill.

Or you can email jo@samaritans.org or visit www.samaritans.org