'It's at breaking point': Aberdare dad climbs Everest base camp to help tackle mental health crisis

  • Darren says the mental health situation in Wales is at "breaking point".

Written by ITV Wales Journalist Emma Grant

Darren Thomas has spent the past few months training for Nepal, walking the Welsh three peaks as part of his preparations.

He flew out to Kathmandu and spent a few days visiting Hindu temples and the local mental and rehabilitation centre.

Darren, from Aberdare, chose the Everest base camp challenge to raise awareness about the mental health crisis he claims is ‘gripping’ his area.

He says each person he talks to has ‘a huge mountain to climb to recovery’ and he wanted to illustrate that by taking on one of the world’s most iconic and famous landscapes.

Demand for services at the mental health charity have increased by 400% since the Cost of Living crisis. Credit: Darren Thomas

A veteran, Darren himself has struggled at times with his own wellbeing. His own experiences led to him setting up the charity SignPosted Cymru during the pandemic.

The organisation is based in Aberdare and opened its doors back in 2021. He was inundated during that time, but says the biggest increase has been the past few months.

The charity offers immediate help and support to anyone struggling with their mental health.

His team have seen a 400% increase in demand for their services since the Cost of Living crisis. Around five to 10 people a day are now calling their helpline or walking through their door.

People are worrying about their fuel bills, inflation, interest rate hikes and it’s weighing heavily on their minds.

Darren said: “Many don’t know where to turn and they cannot see a way out. For some the pressure has got too much that they see no other option.

"Tragically, in the past five months alone, 10 individuals have taken their lives in the Cynon Valley area.”

He added it has a devastating impact on those who are left behind and he is now also supporting families who have been affected by a loved one who has taken their life.

Part of the Everest Base Camp challenge Darren is completing. Credit: Darren Thomas

Darren will be paying tribute to one of his former clients during his trip.

The family of a local woman who accessed services and sadly died earlier this year have asked Darren to spread her ashes at the Everest base camp in tribute.

Some of those accessing SignPosted Cymru have been facing up to an eighteen-month waiting list to get mental health support on the NHS. Darren told us: “We can offer immediate and initial intervention to anyone and counselling within two weeks of an individual seeking help.”

In just over a year SignPosted Cymru has helped over 250 people struggling with their mental health. 100% of all donations go towards counselling. It’s hoped the Everest base camp challenge will raise funds to help cover the cost.

Over a thousand pounds has been donated so far via it’s Just Giving page.

If you have been affected by the issues discussed in this story and need help you can call the Samaritans any time, from any phone for free on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org. They also have a self-help app available to use.