Samaritans’ Ambassador Gail Porter and Coronation Street newcomer and Samaritans volunteer Channique Sterling-Brown are reminding the public that we all have the potential to be lifesavers by simply striking up a conversation, as part of Samaritans’ latest Small Talk Saves Lives campaign.
Both Gail and Channique are speaking out after new Samaritans research revealed that only 50% of UK adults said they would feel confident approaching and speaking to someone they don’t know if they were concerned about them in public. The survey also suggested that we’re more comfortable behind a screen as a nation, as people would much prefer chatting to someone they don’t know on the phone (33%) or by email (18%), compared to face-to-face (9%).
The top reasons holding back those who said they wouldn’t feel confident were ‘worrying the person wouldn’t welcome their approach’ (44%) and ‘worrying they’d make things worse’ (29%), whilst a quarter said ‘not knowing what to say’ was also a concern.
So, Samaritans is relaunching its Small Talk Saves Lives campaign today, in partnership with Network Rail, British Transport Police and the wider rail industry, to empower the public to trust their instincts and start a conversation if they think someone needs help at railway stations and other public settings. The campaign reassures the public that a little small talk like ‘where can I get a coffee?’ can be all it takes to interrupt someone’s suicidal thoughts and help set them on a path to recovery.
Both Gail and Channique know how powerful talking can be. Gail has reached out to Samaritans’ helpline before and attributes talking helping her through tough times, whilst Channique, who plays Dee-Dee Bailey in Coronation Street has been a Samaritans listening volunteer for four years.
On 21 February Gail and Channique opened Samaritans’ No Filter Café, in Manchester Piccadilly rail station, the first ever coffee shop powered by a good chat. Open to the public for one day only, the café with a twist will ask rail users to pay for their morning macchiato or lunchtime latte by simply practising their small talk skills – aiming to highlight the power of human connection and conversation which could save a life.
Recently, Channique put her skills into practice when she noticed someone that she thought needed help on her drive home from a Samaritans shift. She said: “I could see him in my rear-view mirror, and I just knew I had to double back and check if he was okay. Especially as I’d just finished a Samaritans shift – I thought ‘this is why we do it’. I got out the car and simply said ‘hey, are you okay?’. He said he was fine, but I asked again and said I wanted to check as it was super cold and dark, but he reassured me he was fine and thanked me for asking.
“Even though it was no more than that, I am so glad I made that decision and trusted my gut, because maybe it did interrupt a thought process and showed him that a random person cares. This campaign is so powerful as it’s about a basic understanding that as human beings a bit of compassion and connection can go so far, and you don’t need training for that. It’s about showing others that they’re not alone.”
Julie Bentley, Samaritans CEO said: “It’s normal to feel anxious about starting a conversation with someone you don’t know in person, but at Samaritans we know first-hand how life-changing that conversation could be. Suicidal thoughts are often temporary and there’s no evidence to suggest that you will make the situation worse – it’s about trusting your instincts, starting a conversation, and showing you care. We know it’s been a really challenging time for people’s mental health over the last few years, so we hope the Small Talk Saves Lives campaign and No Filter Café helps to build that confidence and remind the public of the difference they can make. Let’s continue to look out for one another – it could save a life.”
Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, said: “Everybody who uses the railway, passengers or staff, has the skills to be a life saver. Small Talk Saves Lives is about reminding us all that a little conversation can go a long way to help someone in crisis and divert their thoughts from suicide. I am ever so proud of our relationship with Samaritans and British Transport Police, and hope this next stage of the campaign helps educate more people on how they can potentially save a life.”
British Transport Police ACC Charlie Doyle, national strategic policing lead for suicide prevention, said: “Together with rail staff and members of the public, our officers continue to look out for vulnerable people and save lives. We know from experience that when someone is in distress, engaging them in conversation can make all the difference in that moment. If people don’t feel comfortable or safe to intervene, they can always tell a member of rail staff or a police officer, text British Transport Police on 61016 or call 999.”
For more information and tips, visit Samaritans.org/smalltalksaveslives or join the conversation on social media using #SmallTalkSavesLives