Suicide Prevention Signs at Israeli Stations Provide Hotline to Call During Crises

'One of the common myths about suicide prevention is that anyone who wants to kill themselves will do so, but access to emotional first aid at the right time and place provides an alternative,' says NGO director

Railway tracks in Tel Aviv, March 2019.
Ofer Vaknin

Suicide prevention signs have been installed at the Herzliya and Beit Yehoshua train stations, offering a message of hope and the number of a hotline to call during a crisis. 

“Do you need someone to talk to? We’re here for you at any time,” the signs read. They give the website and phone number of Eran, a nonprofit organization that provides emotional first aid on the phone and online.

Outside the stations are telephones that connect directly to a counselor at Eran. “A telephone call can save a life,” reads one phone.

The signs and phones are part of a new initiative to reduce the number of suicides on railroad tracks, that will eventually be implemented at all Israel Railways stations. The joint effort by Israel Railways and Eran, in cooperation with the Health Ministry’s Suicide Prevention Unit, the Israel Police and other agencies, will include special training for railway employees in how to approach individuals who appear to be in crisis.

When Eran receives a call on one of the dedicated phones, the hotline will alert the station and a railway employee who has received initial response training will try to locate the individual and offer help.

According to Health Ministry statistics from recent years, there are some 400 suicides and 6,500 suicide attempts in Israel every year, although it is assumed these figures reflect undercounting because suicides aren’t always classified as such. Suicide by train is relatively rare, with between 15 to 17 annually, according to Israel Railways data.

But railway officials believe that as the railway infrastructure expands, with additional stations and lines, there could be more. Not only is each such death a tragedy, but it paralyzes train service for hours, delays passengers, shakes up the train conductors and costs the railway a lot of money. Each suicide can cost 500,000 shekels ($139,000) in compensation to passengers, Transportation Ministry fines for late trains, network delays, sick days for the traumatized conductor and more. For several months, a team at Israel Railways has been discussing how to cope with the phenomenon.

“We started to investigate the subject, to map out the instances and examine how it affects the railway,” explains Ya’arit Lass, the stations director at Israel Railways, who headed the team that investigated the phenomenon. “We met with Eran, with the Suicide Prevention Unit and other professionals, studied the issue, looked into how other countries cope with this and now we are implementing the recommendations.”

From the data Israel Railways collected it emerges that 30 percent of train suicides happen on Tuesdays, that 30 percent occur between 8 and 11 P.M. and that the Sharon region, north of Tel Aviv — particularly Beit Yehoshua – has the greatest number. That’s why the project was launched there. Israel Railway and Eran believe such suicides can be reduced by approaching the person at the right time.

“One of the common myths about suicide prevention is that anyone who wants to kill themselves will do so,” says Shiri Daniels, Eran’s professional director. “The reality is very different. The suicidal person is experiencing unbearable pain as well as ‘tunnel vision’ that sees no way out. People at risk who contact us at Eran by phone and internet share the feeling that they are alone in their suffering and that they are a burden to their surroundings. Access to emotional first aid at the right time and place provides an alternative. This assistance allows the person to share his story with us, rather than end it.”

Daniels adds that international experience shows that the most popular sites for suicide attempts are prominent places that are easy to access and unsupervised. Prevention strategy includes blocking access, signs to increase awareness of available assistance and a timely response to prevent the act until the suicidal mood passes and help can be called.