Three quarters of adults in the south east have continued to make small talk with strangers during the pandemic as Network Rail and the Samaritans encourage people to keep talking to save lives

  • As the country begins to readjust to life with easing restrictions, Network Rail and the wider rail industry joins charity to empower the public to act if they see someone who needs help by starting a conversation
  • New survey reveals over three quarters of people in the South East have continued to use small talk with strangers during pandemic restrictions, including connecting with neighbours they hadn’t spoken to before
  • One in ten surveyed are more likely to want to make small talk once restrictions have lifted, appreciating the sense of community the pandemic brought out

A new survey by Samaritans shows how much we rely on small talk in the South East, as Network Rail and the wider rail industry launches a new phase of Small Talk Saves Lives this summer to empower the public to act to prevent suicide on the railways and other settings.

Just having a small chat with someone who needs help can make the difference between life and death.

The YouGov survey found that over three quarters of adults living in the South East (77%*) used small talk during the pandemic, while over one in ten of those surveyed say they are likely to want to make more small talk with a stranger face to face once restrictions are lifted. (12%*)

During pandemic restrictions, almost four out of ten people said they made small talk with neighbours they hadn’t spoken to before and with strangers at the supermarket (both 39%*). The British weather still remains the go-to subject for striking up conversation, chosen by 68%*of people in the South East.

The survey also highlighted the benefits small talk can have, with over half of respondents saying it can make people feel less lonely (57%*) and boost their own mental health and wellbeing (45%*).

Rupert Lown, chief health and safety officer at Network Rail, said: “As lockdown restrictions lift, it’s essential that we continue to take care of ourselves and each other. That’s why we’re supporting Small Talk Saves Lives and encouraging passengers to join our staff to look out for someone who may be in emotional distress and start up a conversation.

“When you’ve initiated a conversation, listen to what they have to say and repeat it back to them to make them feel listened to and understood. Suicide is preventable, so let’s work together to start conversations and save lives.”

Julie Bentley, Samaritans CEO, said: “We know that the pandemic has had a huge impact on the nation’s mental health and wellbeing and even though restrictions are lifting, people are still struggling. It’s so important we look out for one another now more than ever, because suicide is preventable and it’s everybody’s business.

“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. Let’s start a conversation and work together to prevent suicide.”

The campaign reminds the public they already have the skills to start a conversation with someone who needs help, giving them the confidence to act. By trusting our instincts, if something doesn’t feel right, a little small talk and a simple question, such as “Hello, what’s the time?” can be all it takes to interrupt someone’s suicidal thoughts and help start them on the journey to recovery and it could save a life.

For every life lost on the railway, six are saved through intervention. The Samaritans run training courses to provide rail colleagues with the skills and confidence to recognise and support a potentially suicidal person on the rail network.

Case Study

More than 20,000 rail colleagues are now trained in suicide prevention techniques, and one of them is Syed Asim Shah, shift station supervisor at London Bridge station, part of Network Rail’s Southern region who used his training to help a vulnerable person. He said: “I saw a young woman about 18, 19 years old, she was standing right at the end of the platform. My gut instinct told me that there was something wrong.”

He crossed a footbridge but when he was 40 yards from the woman, she shouted at him to leave her alone. He added: “I knew then something was wrong. I didn’t want to approach too close to her because a train could come any time, or she could just jump on the track and cross over to another platform.

Syed Asim Shah.

“Two or three trains hurtled past as we talked. After some time, I walked slowly to within 15 or 20 yards of her. I texted my colleague telling him to call the police. When officers arrived, she began shouting again and they stayed back while we resumed talking. I then edged forward and then put my arms around her and pulled her to safety.

Reflecting on the experience, Syed said: “It was a very emotional moment. I was happy that I was there at the right time and in the right place and managed to help someone who was struggling to cope.”

Initially launched in 2017, Small Talk Saves Lives was developed after research showed passengers have a key role to play in suicide prevention.**

The latest phase of Small Talk Saves Lives has the backing from leading suicide prevention expert and psychologist, Associate Professor Lisa Marzano, from Middlesex University. Further new research from Marzano has confirmed that when asked, people with experience of suicidal thoughts said that verbal interventions, including small talk, providing reassurance and listening, are the most helpful things a person can do to respond to someone in a crisis.*** 

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