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‘We have to let him go’

25 April 2014

WHEN our train does not appear, we are told over the Tannoy sometimes that the delay is due to "a body on the line". Occasionally, that body is a friend of ours.

Recently, a friend of mine chose to kill himself by throwing himself in front of a train. He is not alone in this choice: there were 238 suicides on the railways in the UK last year. This compares with 890 on German railways, which is just over double the figure in France. The UK comes third in this tragic European list, just ahead of the Netherlands.

In the context of the 6000 suicides each year in the UK, this is a small percentage; and Network Rail is working hard to make it smaller still, with various initiatives. Staff are now trained in awareness, on courses developed by the Samaritans; there are additional cameras at stations, including some Smart cameras programmed to detect unusual behaviour; and seats at the end of platforms have been removed. Successful staff actions in preventing suicides are also recorded: there were 50 such interventions last year.

But, ultimately, prevention is not an exact science, and while recent initiatives clearly help, men in particular are good at getting the job done, when they put their mind to it. And for those left behind, the shock is all the greater, because no one sees it coming - because men rarely speak.

I did not see it coming with my friend, who was 49, and had endless wonderful plans for his 50th-birthday year. On his good days, he was looking forward to it: it was a chance to be with people he loved. But not every day is good, and on that Monday morning, surrounded by family, the inner darkness was too much, and he quietly left the house and made a final journey to his local station, where we had greeted each other on countless occasions. No one in the house had a clue that morning. "He was obviously an amazing actor," his wife said.

There is irony here; for I did not just lose a friend at that railway station, but a business partner - and our business was mental health. Together, Rob and I had set up the Mind Clinic, which takes therapy/counselling into schools and businesses. He was a businessman with a passion for mental well-being, because, behind his smile, which was infectious, he knew the pain.

Most eulogies speak of him as "the life and soul of the party" - and so he was, until one day the cost was too high; until the cost was all there was. Dear Rob wanted so much to save others, but found it more difficult to save himself. He is hardly alone there.

"He must have been very desperate," his wife says, "and we all have to learn to let him go, and allow him his peace. Over the last few months, he had spoken to me about 'letting him go'."

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