There is no doubt that Christo’s life experiences have shaped his unique approach to offering accredited Mental Health and Suicide First Aid courses.
His story gives you a clear insight into why and how he became such an engaging and effective teacher.
Becoming a high flyer
Christo developed a passion for flying and his dedication was rewarded when he was selected to become a pilot in the Royal Air Force. He then became a commercial airline pilot where he flew for a regional carrier for 12 years. In his own words, Christo explains why he loves flying…
I have always found it difficult to explain why I love flying so much. I often return to the fact that it is one of the purest forms of escapism.
Once the wheels are up and I burst through the clouds, there is nothing I can do about my day-to-day worries on the ground.
I can concentrate fully on doing something I love.
Becoming a ‘grounded’ person
After more than a decade Christo lost his job as a commercial pilot and his unflinching recollections of how that felt have informed his understanding of mental health…
When my passion was ripped away from me, it hurt. It really hurt! I could no longer escape the stresses and strains of life in my usual way. Instead, I numbed the pain with over-eating, drinking and unhealthy living.
The grieving process of redundancy took its toll on my mental health and reminded me of the pain and confusion that occurs when people are bereaved by suicide. I denied it was even happening. I was frustrated and angry. I bargained with guilt. This was followed by despair, grief and immense sadness.
Then came the acceptance of the loss… and finally, the acceptance of hope.
I have a loving wife, family and four young children that I need to care for, and whilst the process of recovery was not easy, I am aware of so many others in my position who have not had the support they need.
I have come to view this period of ‘uncertainty’ as a time for gratitude, a fresh start, and new hope.
Investigating the mind
Fortunately for Christo he soon realised that his role as a Black Box analyst and flight performance investigator had given him a unique skillset in tackling mental health issues…
I was offered a role investigating events and trends from data received from the aircraft’s “black boxes”. I looked at why pilots were operating the aircraft outside of the usual parameters, and it was natural for me to always start the conversation with “how are you?”
The question usually prompted a flowing and personal narrative of what was actually going on behind the flight deck door. Just as the data analysis allowed me to unlock the black box’s internals, a simple, open question gave me an insight into why pilots were behaving in a certain way.
In establishing these relationships and taking the time to really listen, I found that there was always more to it; crew suffering from anxiety, financial worries, fatigue or relationship problems.
In aviation, these ‘human factors’, can build-up and lead to safety-critical failures. This is why pilots and cabin crew have strict checklists and procedures which keep ourselves, passengers and cargo safe on every flight we operate.
Developing The Black Box Approach
Christo channelled his passion into developing a unique way of delivering accredited training programmes which deal with mental health issues in corporate and group environments. His presentation style is carefully structured, hugely empathetic and supported by his own personal experiences.
In the training I passionately encourage open communication. This fuels connections and offers a lifeline to those in trouble. People do not always need answers, they just need to be listened to and be heard.
Whilst many come on the courses to learn how to help others, they also learn how to help themselves. Learning the skills to approach uncomfortable subjects and listen to someone non-judgementally can help to create a happier and healthier society.
By equipping people and organisations with the right tools and structures, I hope we can unlock the box and help end the stigma that surrounds mental health.