Izzy and David have been volunteering together in mountain rescue for 15 years. When Izzy had problems with her mental health, David was there to support her both as her partner and as a team leader.
I have been a member of the mountain rescue team for 15 years. I joined because I enjoyed mountaineering and climbing and was interested in giving something back, as well as a new challenge. Mountain rescue is enormous fun and very challenging. There is a real sense of belonging, as you work so closely with others in the team. I met David when I joined the team and, not long after he became team leader. We became good friends quickly and always got on well from the beginning.
I first started to really suffer with mental health problems when I left university. I became very low, distressed and self-destructive. For many years, I was stuck in a cycle of hospital admissions under sections and frequent crises. In 2008, I spent a year in a therapeutic community, which was a real turning point for me.
When I’ve had difficulties with my mental health, my team members have always accepted and trusted me. I was always welcomed back after I had been off unwell. I never had my ability as a team member questioned or judged by anyone because they understood that I was a capable mountain rescuer and not identified solely by a mental health problem. It was so important to have this consistency and acceptance when at times other parts of life were so uncertain.
David has always unquestioningly supported me and, as team leader, he has never considered that I may not be able to do something because of my mental health. He trusts me to let him know if I’m not able to cope. This total acceptance and lack of judgment has been one of the biggest ways in which I have been supported.
For people who want to support a colleague and don’t know what to say, my advice is to be open-minded. Don't worry too much about exactly what you should say; it’s important to just let someone know you care. And be truthful – if you don't understand everything about the mental health problem, that's fine, just say so. You can still care and let someone know that.
A key thing is to remember that that person is not defined by their mental health problem – it is just a part of them. And it’s important to know that it’s not someone’s fault if they have a mental health problem, it is an illness.
I have been in mountain rescue 20 years – many of these as team leader. I have known Izzy since she joined 14 years ago. Mountain rescue is challenging, but also fun. We get to learn new skills and get involved in many things we would never normally get the chance to do.
I have an open mind and am very person-centred; so when Izzy told me about how she experienced mental health problems, I was always thinking about how I could help. I didn’t believe a mental health problem would make any difference, so long as Izzy felt she would be okay.
I empathised with Izzy and gave her as much support as she needed. I basically wanted to acknowledge her feelings but normalise things well. As team leader, I ensured she knew that we all supported her and were there for her.
As a mountaineer, I know how important it is to feel a part of the team, and I knew that this was important to Izzy. Izzy is a highly valued team member, so I did all I could to let her know that.
If you work or volunteer with someone who experiences mental health problems, my advice would be to find out what you can about the mental health problem, learn about what you can do to support them, and be open and honest with each other. Above all, be there and don’t be afraid.