You’ve probably never heard the name, Don Ritchie.
You’ve probably never heard of a place in Australia called “The
Gap” either. Once you hear the story, however, it’s hard
to forget both. Don Ritchie died in 2012 at the age of 86.
To say Ritchie left a lasting impact on those he came into contact with
would be an understatement. He left his impact with a simple gesture. An
invitation for a cup of tea.
The Gap is a cliff in Sydney Australia that is known for its large
number of suicides. Measures such as security cameras and fences were put
in place to help reduce these attempts. None of the measures would have
the impact that Ritchie would have. Ritchie lived at the location across
from the Gap for over forty years. During that time, he began to see
people walk near the cliff and simply disappear. What Ritchie
did over the course of these years is a noble example of human compassion.
Ritchie would approach people near the edge of the cliff and engage them
not come over and talk about it and see if we can fix it?”
Ritchie would then invite them to his home nearby for a cup of tea and
further conversation. Through this simple act of kindness, Ritchie saved
the lives of many. Initial estimates put the number at 160. That
number has grown over the years toclose to 500. Ritchie was soon
given the nickname “The Australian Angel”. A nickname well
deserved. Ritchie was apparently on to something with the idea of engaging
people in conversation. A 2014 BBC study showed that talk therapy helped
reduce suicides in Danish people by 26%. The success was contributed
mostly to those seeking therapy having a safe confidential place to talk.
Much like Ritchie provided in his home.
What we can learn from Don Ritchie is that we can all impact a
life. We all have the opportunity to help someone have a better day.
Regardless of our job or economic status, everyone can listen. It
takes just a few minutes out of a day to help someone cope with something that
has been bothering them for days, months, or even years. We have to do
better. From 1999-2016 suicide rates in the state of Arkansas rose 36.8%.
We all need to do our part in helping with this problem. As Don
Ritchie demonstrated, simply lending an ear is a great first step.