As the Director of Safety and Training for the Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA), Karen Cole is focused on improving safety for bikers in all aspects.

As part of that work, Karen recently completed a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training course with the charity Mental Health Motorbike.

Here, Karen tells me why this kind of training is so important for the biking community, what she learned on the course and how it has helped her.

Tell us about the Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA) and your role?

MCIA represents in excess of 90% of the supply side of the industry; the manufacturers and importers of Powered Two Wheelers (PTWs) and other L-Category vehicles, accessory and component suppliers and companies providing associated services.

My role is all about trying to keep riders safe on the road, whether that’s at the equipment level by working with manufacturers or on the road by working with riding instructors, industry bodies and the Government.

Why did you personally want to do the MHFA training?

I was working on a strategy about the human benefits of biking; motorcycling is great for mental and physical health, people feel better after going out on their bikes.

While I was researching these wellbeing benefits, I came across Mental Health Motorbike and thought the MHFA courses they offer sounded like a great idea and fitted in with the kind of work I was doing.

Karen Cole from MCIA has undertaken Mental Health First Aid training
Karen Cole, Director of Safety and Training for the Motorcycle Industry Association

How important is MHFA training for the motorcycle industry right now?

I think it’s important for everyone, particularly the motorcycle industry – I want to spread the word and get everyone in the industry to take this course.  Given the demographic of most people who take their own lives, and the correlation this has within our industry, it can only be a good thing to have this training embedded within our community.

How did you find the course?

I really enjoyed the learning materials, and I thought the MHFA manual was fantastic. The manual has everything you need to know and you can find the information easily.

The instructor Andy has such a great way of delivering the course in a professional and friendly manner.

What did you learn on the course that really stood out to you?

I was amazed by how simple it is to help someone. I think people worry about remembering everything, but to make a difference is very simple. The standout lesson for me was learning how to spot the signs of someone in a desperate state. I now feel confident that I would be able to help someone with their mental health and be able to signpost them to other services for further support.

What has been your experience since becoming a Mental Health First Aider?

I have already started putting it into practice.

After I did the course, I have since spoken to someone who had recently experienced suicide on a personal level, I spoke with him and afterwards he told me that he had found it helpful to talk to someone who understands.

How has doing the training changed you?

The MHFA training has made me more confident when talking to people about their mental health.

Knowing how many people are affected by poor mental health and what the signs are has also cleared a lot of grey areas for me and lifted a weight that has sat on my shoulders for 20 years.

Now, when I look at the people around me, I feel like I can tell if they might be slipping down that slope into mental ill health, and I know I can say the right things to help. It’s changed my outlook and made me realise that more people are prepared to help and listen, so I’m more inclined to open up as well.

Karen Cole fom Motorcycle Industry Association
‘Riders help riders, ‘it’s just what we do’

What difference has Mental Health Motorbike made among the motorcycle community?

I know a lot of people in the biking community – more and more of them know about Mental Health Motorbike, and they all have only positive things to say.

They are fantastic people doing brilliant work. Bikers are a very supportive community – we’ll always stop and try to help if we spot a fellow biker in trouble at the side of the road – and Mental Health Motorbike are a great addition, they fit in perfectly with that ethos. Riders help riders, it’s just what we do.

What advice do you have for someone considering the MHFA training?

Even if you’re not sure, just try it because it becomes so interesting and engaging. Anyone who cares anything about other people will get something from doing the MHFA course.

It changes the way you think about things, in a good way, and makes you more inclined to be kind because you understand more about how easily you can damage someone’s self-esteem and that lots of people are struggling without necessarily showing it.

It’s so easy to react when someone appears to be behaving in a certain way, but the course really makes you think about being kinder and more tolerant. It helps you to think about what another person might be going through, and even if someone is seemingly always happy or you’ve known them for a long time, you don’t necessarily know what demons they’re facing.

Karen Cole, motorbiker, completes MHFA training
Karen on the track

Would you recommend the training with Mental Health Motorbike, and why?

Absolutely – anyone who’s interested in bikes and people will get so much from it. If you can possibly do it, then do it.

How do you rate the Mental Health Motorbike training?  

Whatever the highest score is – that’s what I rate them!

To deliver a course like this with care and compassion and get all the core messages across via Zoom is amazing.  I want to encourage more people to do it and I’m going to make it my mission to spread the word.

If you’re a member of the biking community and want to learn more about how to support others who may be experiencing poor mental health and have a positive impact on the wellbeing of the whole community, please sign up to our MHFA1000 campaign! Visit the Mental Health Motorbike website.

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