David's Story

We can be the last line between someone’s life and death. Our job is to rescue people and when we are faced with someone who doesn’t want to be rescued, that goes against everything we have trained for. Sometimes all we can do is be near someone and be ready when they want to accept help.

If one of the lifeguards experiences a suicide-related incident, we have a process in place to support them and to assess their own risk. We bring them off the beach and have what we call a hot debrief straight away to establish what has happened. We don’t judge or ask; ‘why didn’t you…’.

At the end of the day, we will have another, more reflective debrief. I do worry about colleagues when they go home alone though, we can make sure that they have helpline numbers to call if they feel distressed.

Within 72 hours, we will have a TRiM (Trauma Risk Management) assessment if we feel that one is needed. We go through a set series of questions and reassure the person that all emotions are human emotions, everything they feel is normal. We get an understanding of them, their Background and who they live with – we want to get a baseline of what a normal day looks like for them.

We go through the details of the day cautiously, we do not want to re-traumatise anyone with too much detail. We look to get a reading of how stressed they feel. If they are eating, sleeping, talking or if there are any safety concerns. We encourage them to keep to a routine and to keep doing the things that they enjoy. We can refer anyone in need of more support to our colleagues in Occupational Health.

I have probably learned a lot the hard way, so I am really glad that we now have a much more open discussion about how we deal with suicide in our work. We are a close-knit team and foster good relationships which is very important in a job like this.

I tell my team that it is ok to not feel ok. We are human and not expected to hide away our emotions about incidents we experience. It’s much better to get it all out there, acknowledge it, talk about it and deal with it together.

– David Wheeler

Brighton and Hove Seafront lead