My name is Andy Pritchard and I am the CEO for Mind in Taunton & West Somerset.
The reason I write is to talk about my disappointment in society’s values. When driving my
children home from swimming class on Tuesday evening, I got stuck in a traffic jam, not
unusual for Taunton around 1730h of a weekday evening. I then realised that it was because
someone was walking in the road, this was approaching the Critchard Way/Obridge
roundabout. I work in mental health and have dealt with calls of people who are
contemplating taking their lives and also know that the Obridge Viaduct is a place of concern
(indeed Samaritans have signs there). I was immediately concerned that this person might
be contemplating suicide and it was indeed up onto the viaduct they were heading.
I rang 101 and was relieved to hear that someone else had reported this, so hopefully help was en
route. What I found difficult was the fact that people were hooting/shouting at this person. I
guess maybe I should expect it, having lived in London I have known all sorts of things to be
said when someone disrupts rush hour. Cars and lorries were pulling round and past and it
came to my turn to go by at the height of Obridge, I decided that I could not do this and
wound my window down and asked was the young lady ok, she clearly was not. I told the
kids to stay in the car and pulled up on the kerb. By the time I had done this and got out I
found the young lady was sitting with her legs over the barrier looking down. Now I had to
decide very quickly what to do, ironically I deliver suicide prevention training as part of
Mental Health First Aid and one of the rules- aside from staying calm- is to never get
physically involved, but I had already seen that she was not a threat, although very upset and I
felt I had to break the rule and did pull her back down, she was at too much risk looking over
the edge. She was very upset with me but at least we were talking.
By this time another couple had pulled over and someone was there beside us but standing back, I guess unsure what to do, but also knowing he could not just drive by. Three more times she tried to climb back up, and three more times I had to block her/pull her back, I was not comfortable with this but felt I had to do something.
She was upset and it was hard to talk as she was shouting leave me alone. I said I could not do that but was happy to talk, one of the key messages of Mental Health First Aid is to allow the person to talk, which often is sufficient to help them offload their immediate stress.
This went on for what seemed ages, and we did have a little discussion, but I guess after 10 minutes the police came and eventually managed to get her to safety. I have since called the local crisis team and been told that she is safe. This was a difficult experience, and has taken me a while to process, and has meant a lot of explaining to my two children (7 & 4 years of age) why someone might feel like this.
What I find myself angry at is the fact that so many people were happy to drive and walk by and just keep their heads down. I know these things are scary and people do not always know what to do, or are scared they may get hurt, but I ask what if that was your daughter, your wife, your relative or friend would you not hope that someone had stopped to help them in their hour of need?
Indeed would you stop for someone else? If not why not?
It also reminds me of how important skills such as Mental Health First Aid are and how everyone would benefit from the confidence and skills giving through such training.
We need to challenge the stigma around mental health which perhaps makes people so cautious or uncertain e.g. if she had broken her leg would people have reacted differently?
I would hope that maybe more people can think, “can I help?” and not just move on past. From
my training I know that yes you need to assess risk, but talking to someone can be enough to
get them to change their mind.
My hope is that this piece will generate some discussion, and
I am sure people will have differing views on what they would do, but I cannot in all
conscience walk past another human being right there in front of me about to end their life.