Sleep, Stormont & suicide myths.

(An edited version of my guest blog for Mountain Rescue Magazine Spring 2020, which is read by Mountain Rescue volunteers throughout UK & Ireland.)

How is your year going so far? It seems as though it’s been rushing past so far, however I’m seeing encouraging signs that spring is on the way with lighter mornings, warmer temperatures and nature budding all around me in the Peak District.

Work in the field of wellbeing and mental strength / mental health awareness has been widespread in our community in the last few months and I’d like to let you know a little of what’s been going on.

How well are you sleeping?

One of the major eye-openers for me at a research symposium in London in January was that 999 personnel first open up to others by talking about how they are not sleeping well.

There are a few messages to be aware of here – other industries and sectors talk about their mental health more or how stressed they are, however, we often choose not to do this. But talking about our lack of sleep, disrupted sleep or sleeping too much is a warning sign that we should be curious about if someone shares this with you – ask some more questions to find out why? What is really going on? If this is your own situation, ask yourself some questions.

What impact is this having at work? At home? What impact is this having for the people you care about in your life? Would you like to know how to get more sleep or better quality sleep?

Did you know that 13th March was World Sleep Day? Google it and find some great info and resources to share practical techniques to improve sleep, mood and mental health outlook. 

sleep tips
How to improve your sleep

Those of you who know my story will be aware that a series of major life events in close succession led to my burnout, which I first opened up about by admitting to someone that I hadn’t been sleeping well for 2 to 3 years. 

Taking some time off and re-establishing a routine of regular sleeping pattern in my own bed and starting to exercise were 2 key factors on getting myself back on track. No matter what is going on in your life, by sharing how you are with someone you trust is the first step towards hope, recovery and a way forward.

My top tips for good sleep hygiene are:

  • Regular time
  • Comfortable temperature
  • Reducing screen time before bed
  • Reducing caffeine later in the day
  • Reducing alcohol before bed
  • Restricting bedroom activities to sleep and sex
  • Gratitude list to square the day away, even if it did go off-track…

Andy’s Landie visits Stormont

Emergency Responder Landie’s with the classic Series III

Andy’s Landie has completed her first overseas trip promoting wellbeing and resilience with a trip to Northern Ireland for presentation to Department of Justice with Scottish Mountain Rescue and Lifelines Scotland & with a training programme for Emergency Responders in N. Ireland, generously hosted by Mourne Mountain Rescue team. (Special thanks to Martin McMullan).

This was well-received and even some professionals from Fire and Rescue Service agreed that they learned a lot during the sessions. 

One of the key points was that its ok to be well & that it’s no accident when this happens. Regularly doing activities which contribute to our mental health in a positive way keeps us in good shape to withstand and bounce back from life’s challenges at work, home and through volunteering.

What helps keep us well?

  • Exercise, family time, downtime, mindfulness, learning something new, hobbies, talking, music 
  • Being well trained, knowing what to expect, being confident about kit & procedures, trusting other teammates & their proficiency
  • Knowing there is a support network for us if we might need it from our colleagues, family & friends.

Why not have a review of what you are doing for yourself to enhance your resilience – as an individual and at a team level? Check the wellbeing framework adapted in your area from the UK Search and Rescue (UKSAR) wellbeing framework.

In Scotland, they have realised that families are an important part of team resilience and have included families and young supporters as part of the team with various initiatives, but most prominently with a ‘welcome to the team’ booklet for new members and families when they join the team. 

Catching up with old friends

Great to see Mike & Tarn again.

It was fantastic to have a chinwag with Mike and Tarn and more of the Mountain Rescue Search Dogs England team on a training weekend in Peak District in early March. They are a recently qualified team and have already one find to their name. Well done and keep up the great work! 

Special respect and thanks to all the dogs bodies who lie out in the cold and all sorts of weather to assist with Search dog training all over the country. #respect

Finally, I just returning from a fantastic weekend in Scotland where I’ve been privileged to have been assisting with delivery of Mental Health First Aid training for 24 volunteers throughout the Mountain Rescue volunteers in Scotland network. Having these people spread across the country is another step towards providing extra protection, support and resilience for our colleagues, friends and casualties in everyday life, training and the most challenging rescues and events.

A key part of Mental Health First Aid training is talking about suicide openly to prevent it and allow people permission to talk about their thoughts of suicide without judgement.

Suicide – key facts to know:

  • Thoughts of suicide are common – 20% of the population have had them (25% of 999 responders)
  • These thoughts are temporary & they will pass.
  • We don’t have to act on these thoughts.
  • There is always hope – even if someone has a plan to take their own life. Just talking to them about it may save their life. 

Top tips & dispelling the myths:

  1. Be direct – don’t use ambiguous phrases which belittle or indicate judgement eg: ‘You aren’t about to do something silly are you?’
  2. If someone talks about suicide, they won’t actually do it – this is actually a real warning sign and a hook / invitation/ request to talk about it / find help.

Watch this amazing short video produced by NHS Scotland which will give you more information and the confidence to talk to someone about suicide in order to save a life.

Enjoy the improving weather, maybe dig out the shorts and lighter tops soon for those warm days ahead. 

Look after yourself and those you care about. Put your own oxygen mask on first. Go well.

1 Comment. Leave new

Stephen Penny
23rd April 2020 9:18 am

Excellent blog Andy with useful tips and links, thanks – Steve, Wellbeing Officer, Scottish Mountain Rescue