Breindahl N, Strange KF, Østergaard D, et al. Evaluation of a critical incident management system on mental health in lifeguard organisations: a retrospective study. 


The full paper can be found here


Tell us more about yourself and the author team

My name is Niklas Breindahl. I am a medical doctor and PhD student from Denmark currently involved in various aspects ofdrowning research. I have worked as a professional surf lifeguard in TrygFonden Surf Lifesaving Denmark with psychologist Kirstine Strange Friderichsen. I now hold the position of Chief Medical Officer at TrygFonden Surf Lifesaving Denmark. Doris Østergaard is a medical education professor and debriefing expert; Helle Collatz Christensen is a consultant and epidemiologist.


What is the story behind your study?

Kirstine and I worked as surf lifeguards and supervisors for many years before implementing the three-step system for critical incident management. In this period, we saw experienced lifeguards being seriously affected by critical incidents. Some even resigned, and others experienced symptoms of PTSD for months following an incident.Simultaneously, the supervisors were insecure about how to deal with these incidents.

Hoping to improve the lifeguards and the organisation’s awareness and adherence to monitoring their psychological health and to provide a standardised system for early recognition of symptoms for the prevention of PTSD, we decided to develop an operational system for critical incident management in lifeguard organisations.


In your own words, what did you find?

We developed an operational system for critical incident management that may improve early recognition of symptoms to prevent PTSD. The system can be implemented worldwide with little adaptations and may provide a basis for screening and referral to a mental health professional.


What was the main challenge you faced in your study?

One of the significant challenges was changing the lifeguard organisation‘s culture, where lifeguards may be expected to handle stress; seeing a mental health professional may be a stigma, and colleagues and supervisors may not identify the critical incident as critical. Establishing sufficient mental health education is crucial to changing the culture in lifeguard organisations.


If there is one take home message from your study, what would that be?

Implementing mental health education and the operational system for critical incident management in the lifeguard organisation may initially seem costly. However, it is our responsibility as employers, supervisors, or colleagues to improve the mental health of all our lifeguards.

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