A GROUP from Chagford have raised £7,500 to support training and awareness in mental health first aid and suicide in memory of a dear friend.

The ‘WTF?! Witheridge To Frenchbeer’ fundraiser was created in memory of Dartmoor farmer Mike Malseed, who sadly took his own life in November 2021 following an acute mental health crisis.

Working with Mike’s family, his good friends Sue Parrott and Alison (Boots) Bright came up with the idea of following his life journey from Witheridge, where he was born, to Frenchbeer Farm, where he lived for more than 35 years.

They set out to raise £5,000 through a fundraising weekend involving walkers, runners, cyclists and horse riders following a route from Witheridge to Frenchbeer, with a reception in Chagford at the end.

‘After Mike died, we tried to think what might have helped at the time, and what could benefit others facing a similar crisis,’ said Sue. ‘We realised that many of us had attended a physical first aid course, but we didn’t know how to deal with a life-threatening mental health crisis. So we decided to address this gap by providing mental health first aid training, which will not only increase awareness of the warning signs, but also give people more confidence to intervene.’

The money will go to the Dartmoor Hill Farm Project (DHFP), Farming Community Network (FCN) and Chagford Recreational Trust to pay for several face-to-face courses to widen awareness of the warning signs of mental ill health. The group hopes to attract leaders or representatives from community and interest groups, such as football or running clubs, young farmers, volunteers, and so on. The aim is to empower the participants with knowledge on how to identify those who may be at high risk and guide them towards appropriate support that might save their lives. Having people with this awareness and ability to respond is especially important in isolated rural areas lacking more formal support systems.

The courses will be held at Chagford Recreational Trust clubhouse. There has already been some interest from sports and interest groups in Chagford but the group would welcome additional applications from people who represent farming and community groups across Dartmoor.

The first course will be held on May 2 in collaboration with the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) and hosted by DHFP focusing on recognising and dealing with pressures within farming. To promote the awareness message, WTF?! will be distributing ‘help’ cards featuring emergency phone numbers for suicide prevention and mental health support.

Since the campaign has exceeded the target of £5,000, the group will also support additional mental health initiatives offered through DHFP. One of these is to increase opportunities for farmers to connect with each other through a network of informal farmers’ breakfasts.

These are open to individuals from rural areas across Dartmoor and create a space for regular social interaction. Contact DHFP if interested in attending or running more Farmer Breakfast events.