Port Macquarie-Hastings lifeguards learn mental health management strategies

MENTAL HEALTH: Lifeguards Brae Pettiford and James Turnham with Judy O'Mara on day two of the personal development workshop. Photo: Ivan Sajko.
MENTAL HEALTH: Lifeguards Brae Pettiford and James Turnham with Judy O'Mara on day two of the personal development workshop. Photo: Ivan Sajko.

Port Macquarie-Hastings lifeguards are learning ways to deal with mental health incidents at beaches across the region.

After a number of major incidents at our beaches during the summer season, Port Macquarie head lifeguard James Turnham said the personal development opportunity was a great way for lifeguards to further develop skills to help them keep people safe at the beach.

“Almost two years ago I did this course in Byron Bay and it was really informative, so I thought it would be a great chance for our lifeguards to gain skills in how to best approach people on the beach who may be experiencing a mental health issue,” Mr Turnham said.

“The course also looks at supporting friends and colleagues who may be experiencing mental health issues which is especially relevant in our line of work particularly given we have had a number of major incidents this summer.”

Mr Turnham said that lifeguards are the first responders at our patrolled beaches and learning how to deal with people who are having mental health issues is vital in being able to provide support.

“Our lifeguards don’t only look after people in the water, when the lifeguards come to work people may be on the beach or in the car parks and if they guards think there might be an issue they will always investigate, so learning skills to provide assistance in a non-aggressive and supportive way is important,” he said.

“We have had a number of major incidents this summer and as well as providing search and rescue assistance lifeguards also have to communicate with loved ones and members of the public so knowing the right and wrong things to say in high stress and uncertain times is very important.”

Judy O’Mara the rural adversity mental health program officer for the Mid North Coast Local Health District, and co-convener of the workshop said it was a great chance for local lifeguards to develop and enhance their skills.

“The two day workshop is all about lifeguards developing that awareness and understanding about how best to respond to people who are experiencing a mental health issue,” Ms O’Mara said.

“Mental health issues are increasingly common in our society and raising that awareness will allow lifeguards to feel more confident about helping people on the beach in situations where they, in the past, may have been apprehensive about approaching someone in a first responder capacity.”

Ms O’Mara also said that the workshop will help the lifeguards support their colleagues and family members.

“Being a first responder lifeguards are exposed to high stress environments and a workshop like this will also give them skills to support their colleagues when things get tough as well as looking out for family members of friends.”