A Brief Encounter

Can change someone’s life…





People can feel distressed for any number of reasons. Someone could be going through a busy period at work, a breakup, a bereavement or they could be experiencing a mental health problem.

Sometimes, if you see someone in distress, it can be hard to know what to do. This website will tell you how to navigate this situation, and make your brief encounters count.

How to spot the signs of distress

Woman looking at her phone on a station platform as a train passes

Sometimes it can be easy to spot the signs of distress - someone might look withdrawn, appear tearful or upset, seem agitated, or they could be putting themselves in a dangerous situation.

Sometimes it can be harder to spot the signs someone isn't alright. The important thing is to pay attention to your gut feeling. Does something feel off? Appear strange? Not quite right? Don’t ignore this. Even the briefest of encounters can make a big difference. Act.

How to help someone in distress

What to do

It’s completely normal to feel nervous talking to a stranger about difficult emotions, but you don’t have to completely understand what they’re going through, and you certainly don’t have to ‘find an answer’. All you have to do is listen.

Reassure them that the feelings they have are temporary, that they will not feel this way forever. If it feels right to do so, remind them that they are not alone. You can ask them whether or not they’ve felt this way before. If they have, ask them how they got through it last time. Try to repeat back what you hear in your own words. Encourage them to concentrate on getting through the day, rather than looking too far into the future. Be empathetic and non-judgmental and, above all, listen.

It might feel a little direct, but it’s important to know if the person is suicidal or not. You can ask this question directly. Ask them, ‘are you thinking about suicide?’ or ‘are you having thoughts about ending your life?’ Bear in mind that asking about suicide won’t make it more likely to happen.

What to avoid

Man standing on train platform, waiting for train, possibly.

Don’t change the subject. Don’t tell them to cheer up, ‘man up’ or ‘snap out of it’. Don’t tell them people have it worse than them, that they should be grateful. Don’t tell them they have no reason to feel the way they do, that they’re being silly.

These things can make people in distress feel rejected, not listened to, guilty, patronised or criticised. Basically, these things can make people feel worse.

Where to find extra help

If you want to speak to someone now

Emergency Services

999 (available 24/7)


116 123 (available 24/7)

For more information

Mental Health UK

Sane Line

0300 304 7000
(4.30pm-10.30pm, every day)

(men of all ages)

0800 58 58 58
(5pm-midnight, every day)

Papyrus/ HOPELineUK
(young people)

0800 068 4141 or 07786209697
(9am-10pm weekdays, 2pm-10pm weekends and bank holidays)

Mood swings

0161 832 37 36
(10am-4pm weekdays)

The campaign explained

It’s hard to strike up a conversation with a stranger, and it’s especially hard to strike up a conversation about difficult emotions. That said, when you’re in distress in public, a brief encounter can really help. With a bit of empathy and a listening ear, even short conversations can change someone’s life.

#BriefEncounter encourages everyone to help out when we come across a distressed person. Inspired by the 1945 film, in which a chance meeting unexpectedly changes the main character’s life, we want to let people know what to do in such situations and remind us all that we have the power to help. 


A #BriefEncounter can change someone’s life…

Network Rail and members of the wider rail industry have partnered with Mental Health UK to help members of the public know how to spot someone who may be in emotional distress while using the rail network or just out and about. Through the partnership, we hope to educate the public around signs to look for and ways to step in if someone is experiencing a mental health issue.

The rail industry is committed to helping the passengers that it serves by training our staff to be able to support those in need, through our partnerships with mental health charities and awareness campaigns such as the Small Talk Saves Lives campaign.