Talking to someone who may be at risk in a public place
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.
If you don’t feel it’s safe to make an approach, or you don’t feel comfortable doing so you can speak to a passer-by, call 999. If you are at a train station, tell a member of station staff or a fellow passenger. You could help save a life.
Signs someone may need help
How people act when they are struggling to cope is different for everyone. Here are some signs someone might be at risk in the rail environment.
- Standing alone or in an isolated spot
- Looking distant, withdrawn or upset
- Staying on the platform for a long time without boarding any trains that stop
Trust your instincts. If someone looks out of place or you feel something isn’t quite right, try and start a conversation.
What to say
Remember that you chat with people every day. Some life-saving questions the rail staff who helped us shape the campaign have used include:
- It’s a warm evening isn’t it?
- What train are you going to get?
- What’s your name?
- Do you need any help?
- Are you okay?
Remember, if you don’t feel it’s safe to make an approach, call 999. If you are at a train station, tell a member of station staff or a fellow passenger.
If you don’t feel comfortable…
Remember, if you don’t feel it’s safe to make an approach, call 999 or alert a member of staff if you are in a train station.
Think SAM. These simple steps will help you guide the conversation in the rail environment and other settings.
Start the conversation
Small talk is a great start. You can ask them if they are okay, introduce yourself and encourage them to talk. There may be some silences before they respond, but just try to be yourself.
You don’t have to manage this alone. If you’re at a train station, get the attention of a member of staff (some rail staff are trained by Samaritans), 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 somewhere – there might be members of staff around to support. You could mention sources of help, including Samaritans and their GP, as well as friends and family.
We do not recommend making physical contact. If the situation is an emergency and you are at a train station, tell station staff or call 999 immediately. If someone is on the track, do not go onto the railway line under any circumstances.
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. If you feel like you need support you can speak to Samaritans by calling 116 123.
I saw a young woman standing on the platform. She wasn’t wearing any shoes but then I noticed some shoes, a bag and a jacket on the floor nearby. I went over and started a conversation by telling her my name.
Rizwan Javed, rail manager trained by Samaritans in suicide prevention
What if I don’t get any response at all?
It can take a while for someone who is having difficult thoughts to realise they are being spoken to and interrupt their thoughts. They might seem distant or may not seem to hear you. Be patient; stay in their line of sight if you can and just let them know that you’re there. When you feel ready, you can try and talk to them again. Just letting someone know you are there can help.
What if they don't want to talk to me?
If the person acts defensively, either wait and try again or make contact with rail staff to raise your concerns or ring 999. Suicidal thoughts are often temporary and interrupting them can be enough to start recovery.
What if I say the wrong thing?
There is no evidence that intervening when someone is at risk will make the situation worse. And there’s no perfect way to make an intervention, just do your best.
If you are worried about the person but don’t feel comfortable in continuing the conversation, make contact with rail staff at the station and let them know that you are concerned, or ring 999.
What if the person I approach is fine and not suicidal?
It’s always better to approach someone you are worried about. It’s usually beneficial to show that you care and they are not alone.
What if the person starts to cry?
Tears are not a bad thing and can help the person release some of the feelings they are having. Just show the person that you are there to help and listen. If you need further assistance at a train station, make contact with staff or ring 999 in an emergency.