Small talk helped UK public through difficult year, study reveals

Katie Hoare
By Katie Hoare,
updated on Aug 11, 2021

Small talk helped UK public through difficult year, study reveals

Latest data reveals UK public relies heavily on small talk, recognising the importance of human connection since pandemic restricted our social interactions

Brits are often renowned for being reserved and channelling a ‘stiff upper lip’ but a new study by YouGov suggests the pandemic has encouraged us to challenge that stereotype, channelling small talk to make connections with strangers, in the face of adversity.

The latest data reveals that one in three-quarters of UK adults (78%) used small talk during the pandemic, and many plan to continue using this tool for connection, as almost one in five (19%) are more likely to want to make small talk with a stranger face-to-face, once restrictions are removed.

The pandemic has demonstrated the benefits of human contact, as just over half (51%) of those who are more likely to want to make small talk, said this was because they now recognise the importance of human connection, plus 39% said they appreciated the sense of community COVID-19 brought about.

In the peak of the pandemic, 37% of respondents said they made small talk with neighbours and strangers in the supermarket, with the weather still the go-to subject for striking up a conversation (71%) despite the adverse events of 2020, as COVID-19 takes second place (45%).

The survey also looked at the benefits that small talk can have. As rates of loneliness soared in the pandemic, the latest data reveals that small talk can help people to feel less lonely (57%), boost their mental health (45%) and show care for others (28%).  

The findings come as Samaritans’ Small Talk Saves Lives launches a new phase of its month-long campaign, an initiative to empower the public to act to help prevent suicide on railways and other public settings.

In partnership with Network Rail, British Transport Police and the wider rail industry, the awareness campaign aims to remind the public that they already possess the skills to strike up a conversation and give them the confidence to do so. By tapping into our small talk skills, we could potentially save a life.

Network Rail’s Dom Mottram experienced the power of small talk when at 19, he was experiencing suicidal thoughts which were interrupted by a lady who asked him if he was ok.

“I’m thankful for the ripple effect of that lady saving my life – without her stopping and checking if I was okay, I might not be here to now look out for and save others,” said Dom.

“I’m always on the lookout for anyone who might need help. If I see someone who looks out of place or a bit down, I often just go over and ask if they’re alright and try and bring them to a place of safety. Nine times out of ten the person is absolutely fine – but trusting my instincts and talking to that one person can make such a difference.”

Samaritans shares that by trusting our instincts, a simple question or pleasantry can be enough to interrupt someone’s thoughts who are considering taking their own life. You could try, “Hello, what’s the time please?”, or “Lovely weather today”.

“It’s so important we look out for one another now more than ever, because suicide is preventable and it’s everybody’s business,” said Samaritans CEO Julie Bentley.

“How people act when they are struggling to cope is different for everyone – people may seem distant or upset, but suicidal thoughts are often temporary – so if something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts and try and start a conversation.”

Let’s start a conversation and work together to prevent suicide.

Small Talk Saves Lives is now in its fifth year, having launched in response to research that revealed rail passengers have a key role to play in suicide prevention. Further new research carried out by Associate Professor Lisa Marzano, from Middlesex University leads this latest phase of the campaign after data revealed people with experience of suicidal thoughts said that verbal interventions, including small talk, providing reassurance and listening, are the most helpful things a person can do to respond to someone in a crisis.

Crisis support

If you are struggling, know that help and support are available, right now.

If you need to talk to someone immediately, Samaritans offer a free listening service 24/7, 365 days a year. Call 116 123 or email [email protected].

If you are in immediate danger of harming yourself or others, or finding yourself at crisis point, call 999 or go to A&E.

If you would like to connect with a professional in a safe, confidential space to share your worries, use the search below to find a counsellor in your area, or offer online support.

The pandemic has created unimaginable stress and anxiety, and put a huge strain on many, so it’s important to know that you aren’t alone in this, and we are right here with you.

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