A ThamesLink staff member who intervened to prevent a 15-year-old boy from taking his own life has said he is “just glad I was there to support him.”
On a day in the first week after the lifting of lockdown, Sigi Gordon, 19, n oticed “a young boy standing right on the edge of the platform just staring at the track.”
Conscious that a train was due in a few minutes time, the Customer Service Assistant for ThamesLink first blew his whistle to alert the passenger, then did so again, and even shouted at the boy to stand back, but received no response.
Another member of staff noticed what Sigi was doing and alerted a staff member closer to the boy to ask him to move back behind the yellow line, which he did.
When the train arrived a few seconds later, Sigi kept watch of the boy and saw him return to staring at the gap between the train and the platform.
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The Harrow resident told MyLondon: “I thought maybe he was just listening to music because sometimes passengers do that – they’re so much into their music that they don’t realise their surroundings.
“Whatever was going on warning bells started ringing. I had a gut feeling that something wasn’t right.
“Thinking back to training I decided to make a little intervention to see if he was OK.”
Sigi approached the boy and asked if he was OK.
The boy replied with a simple “no”, and Sigi continued calmly: “Come with me and we’ll have a chat. Is that okay?”
He walked the boy to the platform office and alerted another member of staff to do a line block so the trains wouldn’t move.
For five minutes Sigi spoke with the school student before the British Transport Police took him to safety.
The boy told Sigi that he was supposed to have gotten off at an earlier station, but didn’t, instead intending to take his own life.
He opened up to Sigi about “having trouble at school” and the “pressure after being online for so long” as well as “family issues.”
“You don’t want to come across as railway staff – big and scary and rule ridden,” Sigi said when asked what advice he would give others who find themselves in the same situation.
“Just be calm and be yourself. Its about being human with the person and getting them to a safe space where you can talk.”
During the incident, Sigi was thinking: ” I need to make sure I do this right. I need to follow safety protocols. I don’t want to put anyone at risk.”
But afterwards he said: “H onestly it was tough and it did take me a while to process it and to get my head around it.
“When I recall it now it’s sad, it upsets me that he was that low and couldn’t find support anywhere else. But I’m just glad I was there to support him.”
“He is four years younger than myself,” he added. “It really hit home. He was virtually my generation.”
Following the incident, Sigi went through a welfare check and was offered to go home and to have specialist support, which he declined.
Govia Thameslink Railway employees all take suicide prevention training through an online course.
The training exercises and videos help them to identify warning signs and behaviours of a vulnerable person, how to safely approach them, and then how to engage with the person if they decide to intervene.
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The training has given GTR staff the confidence to approach potentially vulnerable people using the railway, which in turn has seen the company double the number of interventions made from 233 in 2018, to 508 in 2020.
Laura Campbell, GTR’s Suicide Prevention Manager, said: “This year has been incredibly tough on people’s mental health, which is why it’s so important to equip people with tools to be able to help those in need.
“Sometimes all it takes to break someone’s suicidal thoughts is a simple question, such as asking for directions. By educating our partners on simple steps to identify and help someone who may be vulnerable, we can work together to save lives – because one life lost is one too many.”
To mark World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10), Laura also provided the following advice if you decide to approach a vulnerable person:
Phone 999 immediately if you are very concerned about someone’s behaviour at a station
Let a member of staff or fellow passenger know if you are going to approach the individual
Approach carefully and slowly, from the side if possible
Try to start a conversation – whatever comes naturally, it could be as simple as: “I see you are a bit upset, my name’s John, where are you trying to get to today?”
Try to move them to a safe place and find somewhere quiet to talk: You could use, “it’s a bit noisy here” or “would you like some tea?”
Ask open questions; these are helpful as they encourage people to talk through their problems instead of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’
Ask how they feel; Being invited to say how they’re feeling could be a big relief – and you may find out more about what they’re really worried about
Put yourself between the person and the tracks
Go on the tracks under any circumstances
If the individual doesn’t want help, try not to put any pressure on them. Stay nearby and do not leave them on their own.
When life is difficult, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at [email protected], or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch. You are not alone.
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