Stress is inherent in outdoor trips and activities. People can often adapt to mild stress and return to their baseline relatively quickly; however, chronic, moderate, or severe stress may overwhelm an individual’s coping mechanisms and result in a mental health problem. S/Sx include increasing inability to cope with the challenges of the trip, activity, or group. The graphic below depicts the different levels of distress and their associated evacuation levels with respect to a mental health event
To help avoid a mental health crisis on expeditions or trips, it is critical to identify and evaluate an individual’s distress early. Check in with the group or individuals daily or after potentially stressful events as part of the expedition culture and stress management. Consider using colors as a tool to help group members self-identify their current stress level.
Green = no distress
Yellow = distressed and actively compensating or coping
Orange = overwhelmed having difficulty compensating or coping
Red = severely overwhelmed and no longer compensating or coping
People who self-identify as distressed, overwhelmed, or severely overwhelmed need support and should be encouraged to seek out and speak with staff or the trip leaders privately. Similarly, if staff or trip leaders observe behaviors that indicate a participant may be in distress or crisis, they should speak privately with the individual. Depending on the participant’s story and presenting S/Sx, they may elect to support them in the field or begin an evacuation.
S/Sx of Potential Behavioral & Psychological Distress
Participants who are in distress but actively compensating (yellow) may remain in the field if supported and their daily functioning monitored. Support participants by:
Don't know where to begin or what to do? Take one of our wilderness medicine courses. Guides and expedition leaders should consider taking our Wilderness First Responder course.
Looking for a reliable field reference? Consider consider purchasing one of our print or digital handbooks; our digital handbook apps are available in English, Spanish, and Japanese. Updates are free for life. A digital SOAP note app is also available.
Our public YouTube channel has educational and reference videos for many of the skills taught during our courses. Check it out!