The kindness of strangers saved my life

You will probably encounter someone today who is having suicidal thoughts.

It may be someone you pass by on the street, someone you see briefly at work or someone on public transport. You may never know they are at risk, but your response could help them stay alive.

When someone is deeply depressed, the world may seem a bleak and uncaring place – depression colours our thoughts and impacts on our perception of the world.

We hear this so often when clients come to the Suicide Crisis Centre for the first time: they feel unnoticed in the world, that they have no significance or worth and that it doesn’t matter if they live or die.

I’ve experienced suicidal crisis myself.

I was in the city centre, having been discharged from psychiatric hospital. I didn’t appear outwardly distressed to passers-by and was simply walking quietly through the streets, in the dark of night.

It felt disorientating to be out in the world again, after the security and containment of psychiatric hospital, and I imagine I looked lost.

Two homeless men approached me first – not to ask for help or money, but to check if I was okay. They were concerned that it wasn’t safe for a woman to be out on the streets alone, and they were worried that I was cold.

‘At least take this blanket,’ they said. ‘You’ll freeze out here’.

A man passed me, then turned and came back.

He was concerned and invited me back to his home to have some hot chocolate and toast with him and his wife. He too was worried about how cold I looked. The man phoned his wife and asked her to speak to me on his mobile, to reassure me that he was not inviting me back to an empty house with him.

I was very fortunate that all of these individuals had the best possible intentions. As a vulnerable person that night, I could have come across people who intended to harm me.

The message that I want to pass on from these encounters is the power of kindness.

I was noticed by strangers on a dark night as I edged ever closer to ending my own life – my path was interrupted and diverted.

The kindness offered by these strangers reminded me that there is goodness in the world, and that it was not the desolate place that it had appeared a few hours earlier.

These acts of kindness helped me feel that this is a world I might want to remain in. It reconnected me with the very best of human nature.

Every small act of kindness helps counteract the bleak view of humanity and of the world that a person may be harbouring, when depression clouds their ability to see clearly.

Now, I always notice how drivers responds when I pay the fare on the bus. Do they make eye contact, are they welcoming, do they make that journey just a little bit better for the people who get on their bus?

I also notice shop assistants – people who give their full attention to the person they are serving, who show warmth and kindness through their tone of voice, their manner and the things they say. They may be the only person who connects with a suicidal person on that day.

That is why encounters of this kind matter so much.

Please don’t let someone pass unnoticed on their way to end their life.

Please see them, acknowledge them, connect with them in any small way you can.

I was noticed by strangers on a dark night as I edged ever closer to ending my own life – my path was interrupted and diverted.

As professionals working with clients in suicidal crisis, I know how important it is that we show kindness to every client we meet. It is as important as all the suicide prevention training and suicide intervention skills we acquire.

Kindness can absolutely save lives.

Need support? Contact the Samaritans

For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.

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