Every year over 200 people take their own lives on Britain’s railways.
Railway suicide affects drivers and staff including station staff, track workers and police officers.
More horrific still, the family and friends of the deceased suffer greatly.
A quiet initiative by the Samaritans and Network Rail and supported by the industry generally is now in its second year and enjoying a small but welcome success in helping reduce suicide.
Network Rail and the Samaritans are running specialist training courses in how to spot and help potential suicides.
It is a sensitive subject, but sometime ago Andrew Bolton, a station manager at East Croydon, was able to intervene and save a life.
‘I had attended the Managing Suicidal Contacts training course a few weeks prior to this incident, when I was informed over the radio that a lady had walked off the end of a platform at East Croydon station threatening to jump under a train.
‘Two members of staff saw her walk onto the tracks and brought her back onto the platform and into the mess room.’ Andrew went and spoke to the woman.
‘Hearing the words ‘I want to end it all’ and ‘he’d [her husband] be better off without me’ for real is very chilling,’ says Andrew.
‘The training prepared me for the fact she may say something like it. These words said, in real life, really struck me, but I did my best to talk her through things, using the various listening techniques that I had learnt on the course.
‘She told me that she had recently been diagnosed with cancer, she had lost her job, she had depression, and that everything was getting on top of her.
‘I then offered to make a telephone call on her behalf to Samaritans, but she declined and decided to take a Samaritans pen with the helpline contact number on it instead.
‘Her husband worked in Croydon, so I found out his details and contacted him. He arrived at the station quite quickly and at the same time as the British Transport Police Officers.’
The course Andrew took emphasises communicating and making contact with the suspect suicide.
‘The Managing Suicidal Contacts course made me realise that by talking to a distressed person, you are not going to make the situation worse.
‘By talking to them, you are in fact breaking their suicidal plan. When the lady told me how she was feeling, I used the technique I learnt of reflecting what she had just said back to her. In this way I managed to get her to open up to me and tell me what was wrong.
‘I can definitely say that the course prepared me to deal with difficult situations, which is a good start, because in reality, they are even more difficult. I will now be encouraging all my staff to attend this course, as I feel that having the skills to intervene in situations like this is a big part of our job.
‘I also hope to continue working closely with the local Croydon & Sutton Samaritans branch in their awareness and outreach work.’
For more details of the course, Managing Suicidal Contacts and a new free course, Trauma Support Training, tailored to those supporting train drivers or others following a suicide contact [email protected]