Mental First Aid.... there is an elephant in the metaphorical room and people have started to notice!

A guest blog from an experienced expedition leader and mental health first-aid trainer:

If we’re taking a group out in the mountains and someone has a fall and starts bleeding, we know that we have to stop it and check for any further injuries. If someone starts experiencing chest pains we know we should call 999. We understand and accept the need to attend a 16 hour first aid course at the very least to prepare us for these incidents and the industry we work in demands that we do. What most leaders don’t have is a med kit or training to turn to if someone is experiencing mental distress.

I went through a very traumatic incident in my late teens eventually led to a diagnosis of PTSD and Depression. I started experiencing suicidal thoughts and there were times I nearly acted upon them. All my life I’d learnt how to keep myself physically well and safe, yet nobody had taught me what to do if I had thoughts of hurting myself. There were many times I felt like I was all alone in this world but I now know nothing could further from the truth. Amongst the general population 16.7% of people have had suicidal thoughts at some time and 5.6% have attempted suicide. The simple fact is that you are far more likely to have someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts in your group than you are an individual that will go into cardiac arrest yet we have far more training to deal with the latter.


Whilst expeditions can be incredibly empowering, the challenge and change of a new environment can prove overwhelming to those without the proper support strategies or resources in place. Like many of my peers, I find myself increasingly dealing with undisclosed mental health conditions such as anorexia and self-harm over physical problems. My frustration at my inadequacy to give appropriate help to suicidal teen on my very first expedition as a leader caused me to enrol on a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course provided by MHFA England.


Mental Health First Aid training teaches people to spot the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues and also to provide support and signpost those affected to the appropriate help. It does not train people to be psychiatrists or counsellors, but to be able to offer a vital first line of support to a person in distress. The feedback has been incredibly positive - with participant’s knowledge of mental health and 'confidence in providing support' doubling on average having done the course.


If you don't do the course, then at least know that you shouldn’t be afraid to talk about suicide. Asking people about suicide does not give people ideas they don’t already have. If someone admits to having suicidal thoughts keep listening and ask open questions. If you’re really worried then make an emergency appointment with their GP, take them to A&E or call a local Mental Health Crisis Unit. Not only is recovery possible, it’s also probable. If you really want to be in a better place to help then the Mental Health First Aid course is a great way to start.


If you interested in the course as leader or as a provider then please do give the The STC a call or check out my course at All MTA members and those with an industry recognised qualification will receive a £50 discount. 

About the writer. Stu currently works as an Expedition Leader and Mental Health First Aid instructor with a broad experience in public speaking, mentoring and coaching.