World Mental Health Day 2020

Montage image showing a variety of BDO activities throughout 2020

Today, 10th October 2020, is World Mental Health Day, a day to reflect and consider the difficulties and stigma surrounding mental health, what we can do to help and various methods and tools to improve our own health and wellbeing.

The male suicide rate in 2019 was the highest in two decades, with men comprising 75% of suicides (The Guardian). Samaritans identified several concerning trends: the highest risk group for suicide is currently men aged 45-49. Suicide rates are increasing among young people, particularly women under 25. COVID-19 is thought to be exacerbating risk factors for people already vulnerable to poor mental health.

Vicky Nash, from Mind, says: “we know that a significant proportion of people who take their own lives have asked for support for their mental health within the last 12 months, which means that services are failing people when they need help the most”.

Blackdog Outdoors was founded in 2018 by BDO Director Andrew Higson and Operations Manager, John Gale. John was climbing in El Chorro, Spain when he received a call from Andy who had been climbing Mt. Elbrus in Russia. Andy had been thinking about how spending time outdoors could be used to improve mental health and John had been discussing similar ideas with the international climbing community. Both found that many of the people that they met while mountaineering and climbing were using their time outdoors as a form of stress management and escape. A common theme emergerged – that time spent outdoors in Nature was a significant tool for managing mental health and wellbeing.

Andrew Higson, BDO director (L) and John Gale, BDO operations manager (R) with Chris Whitehead (centre), director of Freeklime Huddersfield.
Andrew Higson, BDO director (L) and John Gale, BDO operations manager (R) with Chris Whitehead (centre), director of Freeklime Huddersfield.

On their return to the UK they began making contact with several organisations (including British Mountaineering Council, Mountain Training, Mountaineering Scotland, CAM, Trail magazine, Berghaus, Ordnance Survey, Osprey, and Canoe Wales) with a view to finding ways to increase participation and recognition of the benefit of being outdoors. It became apparent that people with mental health difficulties can find it difficult to access outdoor activities, because as we all know, when we’re feeling low it can be hard to do even the most basic of tasks.

Lynne Marie Dale, paddle sports officer, knelt on her standup paddleboard, on the canal.
Lynne Marie Dale, paddle sports officer.

From that point, they decided that they could use their contacts within the outdoor industry to make accessing these activities easier for people with mental health issues and thus, Blackdog Outdoors was born.

L-R Corinna Parry (mental health first aider). Felicity Turner (hill skills officer) and Ian Holden (trainee mountain leader)
L-R Corinna Parry (MHFA). Felicity Turner (hill skills officer) and Ian Holden (trainee mountain leader)

With the help of a fantastic team of trustees and volunteers, we’ve gone from strength to strength, raising funds and providing free-to-access outdoor activities and adventures across the UK, including wellbeing walks, mountaineering, navigation and map-reading courses, canoeing and kayaking, bouldering and rock-climbing events. In 2021 a group of BDO attendees will be embarking upon an epic expedition to Everest base camp -BDO’s biggest adventure to date.

(L) Trip to Aber Falls, North Wales. (R) attendees at Introduction to rock climbing, Lawrencefield, Peak District.
(L) Trip to Aber Falls, North Wales. (R) attendees at Introduction to rock climbing, Lawrencefield, Peak District.

With the advent of COVID-19, the need to spend time outdoors has become even more apparent for many people. A 65% increase in outdoor activities has been reported, with 90% of those participants reporting a positive impact on their mental health and wellbeing.

Montage image featuring BDO paddlesports attendees and instructors in their open-top kayaks.
Paddlesport event attendees and instructors.

As the need for these activities increases, so does the demand for our services, which is why BDO will soon be providing our unique outdoor experiences to professional mental health services and their users. With support from our sponsors and the outdoor community, we will reach out to even more people and services across the UK.

BDO rock climbing event (L) and BDO attendees at the summit of Ben Nevis.
BDO rock climbing event (L) and BDO attendees at the summit of Ben Nevis.

If you work in the outdoor industry or mental healthcare sector and feel like you could help us to make a difference, get in touch via john@blackdogoutdoors.co.uk.

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