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10th Oct 2017

A fatality on the tracks

"I started shaking."

Justine Stafford

Last weekend I cried for someone I didn’t know.

Connections are strange old things. Every day we walk past a potential perfect match or a soul with whom you might share an identical problem. You can never be certain of that connectedness because strangers aren’t going to open up about their issues.

We just walk on by with our stresses that nobody will ever know exist because we don’t talk.

What connected me to this person – this person whose name or age or even gender I didn’t know – was an urge.

On Sunday I was travelling back to Manchester airport after spending a weekend visiting my brother.

We were gearing up for the last hug until Christmas when our conversation was pierced by an announcement that was very different from a “mind the gap” or “the train is approaching.”

“This service is delayed due to a fatality on the tracks.”

I started shaking.

Having struggled with mental health issues since I was a teenager, empathy overwhelmed me as I wondered about that final thought which resulted in that final step. Was the person on the tracks for long? Was there a moment of panicked regret when the train approached? Was there pain? There must have been pain.

I couldn’t be certain that it was suicide but, in all likelihood, life became too difficult to live for this unfortunate soul and they made the ultimate decision to bring an end to it.

This piece isn’t about that person because, as I say, I know nothing about them.

This piece is about a different person. A person with whom I felt no connection.

A middle-aged woman with short black hair threw her hands up to the heavens in exasperation and uttered five words with a sentiment that I still can’t believe anyone would be capable of.

“Who do I complain to?”

Not thirty seconds had passed after news of a lost life arrived before this woman, whose meeting was clearly considerably more important than another person’s entire existence, made it all about herself.

Her mind didn’t rush to feeling sorry for the person or contemplation of a family which would never be the same or a train driver who could never unsee what he had just witnessed.

This woman simply didn’t care about anything other than the minor inconvenience to her day. A 15-minute delay to her warped reality was more pressing to her than one single moment of reflection.

“Who do I complain to?”

There are people like this out there but, thankfully, the self-involved and apathetic attitude perpetuated by them is slowly being eradicated.

My battles with depression which resulted in a suicide attempt in 2015 and a lifetime of self-harm allowed me to instantly connect with the person who had become a fatality on the tracks but it shouldn’t take shared experiences to allow for compassion.

Ignorance like this woman’s must not be tolerated because it is her perspective, or lack thereof, which deters sufferers of mental health issues from speaking out about their problems.

Conversation is crucial. I’ve learned that first-hand.

And while mental health is being discussed more openly than ever, that prevalence should not lead to desensitisation in society.

A life was lost and all this woman had to offer was a tut, a glance at her watch and five words which would make you question how civilised we really are.

This woman has absolutely no right to complain about anything.

The people who should be complaining are the sufferers of mental illness. They should be complaining to the government about its lack of funding for mental health services. They should be complaining about waiting lists in the public sector and the absolutely unrealistic fees in private care.

Today is World Mental Health Day.

Speak up to friends, family or anyone you trust if you are experiencing difficulties. Recovery is possible and finding the treatment which works best for you is the most difficult part.