After a year of restrictions it's normal to feel anxious about making small talk, but having the confidence to act could 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 that somebody might need help:
- The person is standing alone or in an isolated spot
- They look distant, withdrawn or upset
- If they are at a train station, they might stay 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.
How to get started
It can be hard to know how to approach someone who needs help. A simple question or observation can be all it takes to interrupt someone's suicidal thoughts and start them on the journey to recovery. Here are some tips on how to get the conversation started:
- Introduce yourself
- Ask their name
- Ask if they are okay, or if they need help
- Make a comment on the weather
- Ask them where they are going
- Ask if they know where you can get a coffee
- Ask for the time
Once you have initiated contact with someone, try to encourage them to start talking.
- Listen to what they have to say and repeat it back, to make them feel listened to and understood
- Encourage them to sit down somewhere safe and quiet
- Ask the person if there’s someone you can call for them
- You could mention sources of help, including Samaritans and their GP, as well as friends and family
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.
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. There may be some silences before they respond, but just try to be yourself.
What if they don't want to talk to me?
If the person acts defensively, either wait and try again or alert someone to help. 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 or call 999.
If you are at a train station, tell a member of station staff or a fellow passenger.
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.
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.
Trust your instincts
There is no right or wrong way to approach someone and you don’t need special training to help – you just need to start a conversation, something you do every day.
You can't make things worse
You might be worried that you’ll make things worse, but there’s no evidence to suggest that you will and you may still be helping even if you don’t get a response right away.
Suicidal thoughts are often temporary and can be interrupted.
Simply talking to someone and interrupting their thoughts may be all it takes to encourage them to reach out for support.
You don't have to do this alone
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 or call 999. If you are at a train station, tell a member of station staff or a fellow passenger.