Coastguard speaks out about mental health

Coastguard Alex Hill has spoken out about mental health awareness for this month's national event, following his recent experience of taking a suicidal 999 call – and saving a life.

The Maritime Operations Officer at the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in Holyhead is keen to highlight the importance of mental wellbeing, and to show how empathy and support for those struggling to cope can make all the difference.

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is focused on loneliness, something Alex believes is behind a lot of the suicidal calls Her Majesty’s Coastguard receive.

His experience last month highlights the important work of coastguard officers in self-harm incidents.

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The 24-year-old recently answered an emergency call and was faced with a miserable voice expressing suicidal intentions. Alex was quickly able to determine that not only was the casualty in a dangerous place mentally, but also physically; he was on the Hoylake sandbanks, surrounded by rising water and with no way to safety.

Alex – and the control room team at the MRCC – leapt into action, mobilising rescue teams to find the man in ‘imminent danger’ while also dealing with the mental health crisis. The man was rescued and immediately referred to mental health services in an incident Alex said was just ‘a hair away from having a tragic outcome’.

Alex Hill has been a vocal supporter of mental health awareness


He said: “We don’t often actually speak directly to the person needing rescuing, so when we do, they are incidents that really stand out in your mind.

“It’s a very memorable rescue that was just a hair away from having a tragic outcome but instead it has reminded us all why we do this job, we don’t do it for praise but to know that we have helped someone.”

He continued: “He was in danger regardless of his own mental state.

“I could hear the water rushing past him, it was like a river – it’s rapid and deep. And this man was in doubt about if he wanted to live or not – I kept telling him that help is right in front of you, I know how to get help to you, and I think that was important.

“It was pitch black and he was understandably panicked so it was hard to find him – until we realised, we could see the light from his phone. The hovercraft went straight to him then and it was just relief; even if he had needed medical treatment or had injuries, we had him. My worry had been finding him and then convincing him to get help, but once I heard he was ok, a wave of relief rolled over us.

“We all looked at each other in the control room and understood that it could definitely have been a fatality.

“It’s very satisfying, you feel good certainly as we were able to get this chap to engage and, essentially, rescue himself.

“It was a real team effort though – I may have been speaking to him but everyone played their part, from my colleagues in the control room to the teams on the ground that went and got him.”

Alex said that he felt that calls from people suffering a mental health crisis and needing help on the coast was something teams always handled sensitively and with empathy.

“We’re like a plaster on the wound, we know we are the last resort once people have gone from a place of safety to a place of danger,” he said.

“But, I think, if this gentleman hadn’t have rung, it would have ended tragically, he needed that voice to talk to and tell him that help was coming.

“I am proud to have been able to be that voice to bring the man back to safety.

“I just really hope he now gets the follow-up care he needs.

“It’s true that the one thing we don’t get is closure. It would be incredible to hear from people we’ve helped in their darkest moment; but that’s not why we do this at all. We do it to help people in their darkest moments.”

For more information about HM Coastguard’s work, visit: https://hmcoastguard.blogspot.com/

For more information about Mental Health Awareness Week, visit: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week

If you are struggling, please talk to someone. 

Visit: https://www.samaritans.org/ or dial: 116 123

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