Our diocese is blessed with an attractive coastline providing a glorious venue for walkers, sightseers and visitors. Along the coast the paths often follow the line of the chalk cliffs rising up to the high spot at Beachy Head. But sadly, these beauty spots also attract those who come to the area to end their lives.
The good news is that there is a team of people based at Beachy Head who are willing and able to draw alongside the people who make their way to this beauty spot and help them to have hope and see that things can be better.
The Beachy Head Chaplaincy Team is a crisis intervention, search and rescue service that seeks to prevent loss of life from suicide at Beachy Head. They patrol a 4.5 mile search area on foot and by car, identifying people who are displaying possible suicidal traits and engaging with them at the earliest opportunity. Using skills in crisis intervention they offer supportive listening to start a dialogue and encourage a more hopeful solution than a premature termination of their lives. And the trained chaplains are available every day of the year. That’s commitment!
All the chaplains belong to churches so faith is an important aspect to the work, although the training ensures that people are approached with sensitivity. There is no hidden agenda to deliberately promote faith, but only to help those in need to have hope in the future.
People’s lives have been turned around. From believing that all hope is gone, and nothing can change their situations the Team have had many responses from the people they have been able to help. Here are just a few.
“Thank you for the amazing work that you do. You have recently saved my nephews life and my family and I will be eternally grateful. God bless you all.”
“The months surrounding our meeting are hazy. You found me writing a note in my car. I was pregnant at the time and I didn’t want to go on.”
“My son is turning one in a few months and I can’t not think of that night at Beachy Head when your two Chaplains helped me. He wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you and I just wanted to say thank you.”
Taking one’s own life doesn’t just affect the person involved. On average around 135 people are profoundly affected by one person’s death. There is also the sadness of those who survive but are severely damaged. It is far from an easy option.
Sadly around 1% of all suicides in the UK occur at Beachy Head. People travel there from far and wide, as well as nearby. There are around 3 incident/searches on average per day in 2023 and the chaplaincy team work alongside their colleagues in Sussex Police and the nurses of the Mental Health Triage Team. These other agencies are able to go on and provide support for many of those the Team connects with in order to help them find a way from darkness to light.
But everyone can play a part in supporting those who feel they have no options left. It’s as simple as just saying hello to someone. As we walk along we encounter all kinds of people, whether it’s on the streets, on the beach or along one of the coastal paths. A simple greeting can make a world of difference. Sadly there are many isolated and lonely people in the world and in that isolation dark thoughts can fester. To make contact with another person who smiles and gives them a simple “hello” can be the difference which lifts their spirits and provides a small glint in the darkness.
The work of the chaplains is really a fully grown version of that. One of the chaplains, Mark, says that he loves the fact that the work they do makes such a difference to so many, “being there for someone who has hit rock bottom and life has lost its hope is a privilege, to listen to somebody’s story is very humbling and also if we get the chance to see that person at another point later in their life and they say ‘I was here a year ago and I have turned my life around and I’m in a better place’ - then what greater reward is there than that.”
As someone has said, “Suicide doesn’t end the chances of life getting worse, it eliminates the possibility of it ever getting better”.
If you would like to find out more about volunteering at BHCT full information is on the website – www.bhct.org.uk
Or you can contact Karen on 07792 788606 or email Karen.Elkington@bhct.org.uk