Each year in Germany, more than 1000 people throw themselves in front of moving trains. Around 25 000 train engineers experience a suicide during their working lives, some as many as two or three – not counting the failed attempts in which the victims survive but suffer serious injuries. Suicide on the rails, also called "Personenschaden" ("Human Damage") in railway jargon, is different from other ways of killing oneself in one important way: the person who does it is both a victim and a perpetrator. He or she seriously harms at least one other person besides himself: the train engineer.

How well an engineer is able to cope with this traumatic experience largely depends on the kind of support he receives from his employer and on how those immediately around him react. One thing that makes it especially difficult for him is the fact that the statistics on the surprisingly high number of people who attempt to take their own lives on the train tracks are usually covered with a blanket of silence. The official justification given for suppressing this information is the so-called "Werther Effect" a scientifically proven phenomenon whereby others are drawn to emulate or copy the suicide attempt. Yet the train engineer must live with the burden of this trauma – a burden which not only weighs heavily on him but also threatens to destroy his family. Only a very few individuals receive adequate counseling and are able to return to a normal life.

In the documentary film "Human Damage", filmmaker Mechthild Gassner meets with train engineers who have had to deal with this shattering experience, once or even many times within a short time period. She talks to family members who have witnessed how radically their husband, son, father or brother changed after such an event and how the entire family threatened to break apart. She reveals how difficult the way back to a normal, happy life can be and how important it is to get the right counseling and care.

Director: Mechthild Gassner
Camera: Steffen Bohn, Axel Schneppat
Sound: Tim Pattberg, Ivonne Gärber
Production Manager: Rolf Bremenkamp
Producer: Birgit Schulz
Commissioning editors: Sabine Bohland, Barbara Schmitz (WDR- die story), Johanna Holzhauer (WDR – Tag7)

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