Around one in six people in different roles working in the railway industry is now trained in suicide prevention skills, and I'm proud to say that I'm one of them. In a nutshell, the courses we go on, run by Samaritans, give us the knowledge and the confidence to approach someone who might be at risk, keep them safe, and then get them the help they need.
British Transport Police has a Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Team and it was while I was based with them that the boss asked me to go on Samaritans' Managing Suicidal Contacts course, and report back on how useful I thought it would be for colleagues at Liverpool St.
The day-long training was thorough, giving us an understanding of what someone experiencing difficult thoughts and feelings might be going through, and the kinds of psychological barriers people put up that can stop them reaching out for help. A suicidal person may be agitated, but equally they may appear to be very calm, so there are a range of other behaviours we learnt to look out for.
Suicide is complex, there's never a single reason why a person contemplates taking their own life, and there are no absolute indicators that a person could be in that state. The course taught us to take all kinds of things into consideration and, to an extent, to rely on our gut feelings. If there's something not quite right, there's never any harm in checking it out. I know if it was someone I knew who was at risk, I would hope that someone would notice and get them help.
After going on the course, it wasn't long before I was putting my skills into action. We'd had a report about a man drinking on a bench on a platform. It was late at night, he was alone, and there were no trains due to stop at that platform.
I sat alongside the man and initially he seemed quite cheerful. I noticed that he had a hospital wristband on. As we talked, he mentioned that he was on anti-depressants. I felt I should stay with him and kept chatting and building a rapport, to the point where he agreed to leave the platform. I suggested we carry on talking somewhere and we went into a fast food restaurant.
It was there that he let me know that he had taken an overdose and I knew that I needed to keep his trust but act quickly and get him to hospital. Thinking back to that night, I believe my Samaritans' training was invaluable and changed the way I approached the whole situation. I could look past the man as a drunk on a bench and take the time to talk to him to see what other issues there may be. I had the confidence and the skills to explore why he might be acting in this way. By taking time to listen to him, I could get him the support he needed and ultimately save his life.
Suicidal crisis builds, but it also subsides, sometimes in a relatively short space of time, especially if there is an interruption to distract that person from that way of thinking. If somebody notices something's not quite right, that can make for a totally different outcome and, with support, recovery is possible. If you're suffering in silence, by default you can't express what you're feeling and what's happening to you. A simple intervention - asking the time even - can interrupt ways of thinking that could otherwise put that person at greater risk.
The training has definitely given me more confidence to deal with people who are struggling, for whatever reason, and I know how to ask the right questions to bring a person out of a suicidal crisis.
Anyone can contact Samaritans in confidence for free from any phone on 116 123, and the number won't show up on your phone bill. Or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.samaritans.org to find details of your local branch, where you can talk to a trained volunteer in confidence.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Rethink Mental Illness advice and information service is open 9:30 - 4pm Monday - Friday - 0300 5000 927. They have over 100 factsheets with easy to understand information on a variety of issues related to mental health
- CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) is a registered charity, which exists to prevent male suicide in the UK. Call 0800 58 58 58 or visit thecalmzone.net
- The Mix is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: email@example.com
- HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41