-- Business blog now available --

A quick note to say that I've set up my Business blog, to be able to speak with a clear voice on both personal and work issues (i.e. by having separate blogs).

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Combat Stress – caring for Veterans' mental health


For my undergraduate degree, I studied Psychology, and fascinating it was – it’s related to the human condition, but both the physical and metaphysical perspectives [well, something like that – Ed.].

I was also a member of the URNU, the University Royal Naval Unit, and loved that as well. A little bit of background (i.e. a related post) can be found here.

Based on a gut instinct that our servicemen and women could be treated more respectfully and looked after better, I’ve recently donated to Help for Heroes. Based on my background though, I’ve got a closer affinity to Combat Stress, and this post is designed to help you understand why.

I realise that there are a number of quotes from the Combat Stress website, but I’m guessing you’ll bear with it…!

About Combat Stress

Why Combat Stress exists

Combat Stress is the UK's leading military charity specialising in the care of Veterans' mental health.

We treat conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety disorders.  Our services are free of charge to the Veteran.

Since 2005 the number of ex-Service men and women seeking our help has risen by 72%.  And we have a current caseload of more than 4,300 individuals. This already includes 102 Veterans who have served in Afghanistan and 400 who served in Iraq.

In March 2010 our Patron HRH The Prince of Wales launched our major fundraising campaign The Enemy Within Appeal.

The £30 million, three-year appeal is designed to help us treat the escalating number of psychologically injured Veterans who are turning to us for help, by:

  • Establishing 14 Community Outreach Teams nationwide
  • Enhancing clinical treatment at our three short-stay treatment centres

If you need help yourself

This link has the map referred to below in the following quote:

Combat Stress provides effective treatment and support to Veterans of the British Armed Forces who are suffering from mental ill health.

If you or perhaps someone in your family has a problem, then please call us for an informal chat.

Our services are free of charge and regardless of War Pension/Armed Forces Compensation Scheme status.

We have people in your area ready to take your call –8.30 am to 4.30 pm, Monday to Friday.  Simply click on your region in the map [below] for contact details of your local Support Desk.

Veterans do not have to have seen active service in order to qualify for our help – but if you are in any doubt, just ask us.

Some facts re the Falklands War

At a recent Combat Stresss fund-raiser that I attended, Lieut-General Robin Brims addressed us, and mentioned the problems that service personnel faced returning home after fighting in the Falklands War.

I don’t really have time to substantiate the following quote which I believe backs him up, but it’s from here and quotes Guardian and Observer sources:

Since the war, hundreds of veterans, both Argentinian and British, have committed suicide. Numbers of suicides are not recorded by the MoD, but the South Atlantic Medal Association claimed in 2002 that more British ex-servicemen from the Falklands have killed themselves since the 1982 conflict than died in action: 264 they estimated (300 is more recently quoted).

An example is Lance Corporal Colin Deary who lost three friends in the Falklands, was discharged from the army eight years later with drink problems, and in 1994 stabbed himself to death. Similar reports have been made about the Argentinian troops.


As in all wars but still not adequately recognised by the military establishment, the servicemen and women suffer to varying degrees from post traumatic stress disorder. Many soldiers found it hard to return to normal life, ended up getting into trouble and committing crimes.

Simon Skinner suffered flashbacks and stumbled from one crisis to another attempting suicide on several occasions, becoming an alcoholic and getting into debt, and finally in 1995 having his final flashback. ‘He got out of bed, stood to attention, marched out of the room as if in a trance and, stumbling, fell down the stairs. He died five days later.’

Video highlighting the issue

The Enemy Within Appeal

Caution: this advert features a simulated flashback some viewers may find disturbing.

On 11 March 2010, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, launched the Combat Stress Enemy Within Appeal at St. James's Palace. 

This accompanying advert highlights the emotional 
impact of PTSD on the lives of Veterans and their families.

The key aims of The Enemy Within Appeal are to:

  • Raise £30 million to enhance and develop mental health services for Veterans.
  • Raise awareness of the plight of Veterans suffering from psychological injury.
  • Encourage Veterans and their families to seek help earlier.

Please help us in any way you can.

N.B. You can now follow us on:

 Follow CombatStress on Twitter YouTube Logo

Enemy within appeal leaflet

This gives info on the appeal mentioned above – probably best viewed in Fullscreen mode…

The Enemy Within appeal leaflet

Wash up

Hopefully you get the general idea. I’m expecting to do another Byte Night sleep-out in the Autumn, but plan to devote any future fund-raising activities to help this cause. I hope you can support me. :-)

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Crowdsourcing Mycological Response Teams to help with the Gulf #oilspill?


In my previous post on this subject, I recapped my personal take on the overall situation.

Having drafted this posted a couple of days ago, I now learn that:

Almost three-quarters of the oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico has been cleaned up or broken down by natural forces, the US government has said.

A government report says only a quarter of the oil from the BP well remains and that it is "degrading quickly".

The majority had been captured, burned off or evaporated, it states. But more clean-up is necessary officials warn.

The report was released after BP announced its "static kill" procedure to seal the leak was working.

So I thought I’d better post in case something else major happened. Doh!


I’m guessing that despite the good news re the oilspill, that there will remain a challenge to clean up that oil which hit the Gulf coast.

Having pinged an e-mail to Paul Stamets’ team, their response pointed me to a page with the following quote:

The Petroleum Problem

Thank you for visiting fungi.com, and for your interest in the BP oil spill disaster and the potential for mycoremediation.

We are being inundated with requests and cannot individually address all of the questions we have received. We are in direct dialogue with the EPA at the highest levels, and are teaming to implement solutions to this huge disaster. Since we are such a small company, we are stretched to our limits. Your support allows us to dedicate as many of our resources as possible, and for this we thank you. Again, please accept our apologies if we cannot individually address your concerns. Our statement at below will be updated periodically as we gather more information.

[my hyperlink for mycoremediation btw]

I am assuming that Paul Stamets and his team are the primary resource in this domain – i.e. to use fungi to break down pollutants in an ‘eco-friendly’ way. What seems clear is that there are problems with scaling, getting the idea to a wider audience and gaining a following & critical mass.

The article continues:

How can we help?

Knowing that the extent of this disaster eclipses our mycological resources should not be a reason to not act.

I proposed in 1994 that we have Mycological Response Teams (MRTs) in place to react to catastrophic events, from hurricanes to oil spills. We need to preposition composting and mycoremediation centers adjacent to population centers. We should set MRTs into motion, centralized in communities, which are actively involved in recycling, composting and permaculture—utilizing debris from natural or man-made calamities to generate enzymes and rebuild healthy local soils.

I see the urgent need to set up webinar-like, Internet-based modules of education to disseminate methods for mycoremediation training so people throughout the world can benefit from the knowledge we have gained through the past decade of research. Such hubs of learning could cross-educate others and build a body of knowledge that would be further perfected over time, benefiting from the successes and failures of those in different bioregions. The cumulative knowledge gained from a centralized data hub could emerge as a robust yet flexible platform that could help generations to come. Scientists, policy makers, and citizens would be empowered with practical mycoremediation tools for addressing environmental disasters.

Going social

My argument here is that a social approach, akin to the PeopleFinder wiki created in response to Hurricane Katrina, might help MRTs self-organise and conduct operations under a loose ‘umbrella’.

A similar tool might already have been implemented by Deepwater Horizon Response website – but apologies – I’ve not had time to check it out (or the follow-up site RestoreTheGulf.gov).


I’m going to kick speculation about what tools to use into touch for now, as my priority is to post – and update this or post separately as appropriate. However, potential requirements could be:

  • Repository of successful mycoremediation techniques
  • Communications tools
  • Team-based areas where teams can get themselves sorted and manage their activities
  • Connections with mainstream social media tools

Staci Stoller

I wanted to tip my (Stetson hat) to Staci Stoller, a former colleague of mine in London, who has offered to help in getting the message out in Texas. Thanks, Stace! :-)

The Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE?

I saw an item on the BBC news site, which took me through to the main page on this, which explained thus:

It is a $1.4 Million competition designed to inspire a new generation of innovative solutions that will speed the pace of cleaning up seawater surface oil resulting from spillage from ocean platforms, tankers, and other sources.

This X CHALLENGE, announced on July 29, 2010, is a one-year competition that begins on August 1, 2010 and culminates in the summer of 2011, with head-to-head competitive demonstrations taking place at the National Oil Spill Response Research & Renewable Energy Test Facility (OHMSETT) in Leonardo, New Jersey, USA (www.ohmsett.com).

A $1 Million Prize will be awarded to the team that demonstrates the ability to recover oil on the sea surface at the highest oil recovery rate (ORR) and the highest Recovery Efficiency (RE).

So, my initial excitement about something fungi-related winning the prize was tempered by the focus on “cleaning up seawater surface oil”. However, on the ‘competition details’ page I also noticed:

X PRIZE will be finalizing the details over the next 30 days, and will post final rules in September.  We encourage you to PRE_REGISTER as a team and we will keep you informed of any changes and when the detailed rules are posted.

So maybe the scope of the compo could be widened to include prizes for on-shore cleanup efforts?