A podcast, for mental health some thinking time and a head clearing cycle later along the coast.

There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” ― Leonard Cohen

Today I was asked to do a podcast for Basic Scotland.

https://basics-scotland.org.ukWeb result with site linksBASICS Scotland

BASICS Scotland (British Association of Immediate Care) is a charity based in Perthshire. We specialise in promoting the provision of high quality pre-hospital emergency care to health professionals in Scotland.

It was as always fairly hard mentally talking about things that are buried deep in the mind. Yet I feel its worth doing as I have always been proactive in passing on my thoughts and the mistakes I made over the years in dealing with traumatic situations. Hopefully we can pass on lessons learned to future generations through folk talking openly about their experiences.

I tried to go for a cycle later to clear my head but got caught in a heavy rain shower. I find that getting out and exercising clears my head. When the weather cleared later in the day I go out again on my bike and enjoyed a stunning evening cycling along the coast. Its so good to be able to get out and about.

A yacht along the coast in the lovely sunset.

When the podcast is live I will add a link on this blog. Here are some words I wrote in the past that may help folk understand.

Many will know that I suffered from PTSD after Lockerbie in 1988 and at times it still affects me! I have written about it many times in my Blog and regularly hear from so many who suffer from it. It is sad to see that such a tragedy like Lockerbie that affected a huge number of my team over the years.  A few only realising this recently over the last 10 years! So many families have had to deal with this and the strains on the families and loved ones are huge. I know this from my time in the dark room! I also was heavily involved in the Shackleton Crash in Harrris in 1990 where 9 souls died and the Chinook Crash on the Mull of Kintyre in 1994 where there were 29 fatalities. I was unfortunate to be on scene very fast on all these tragedies, so I sadly speak with vast experience on this subject. I also feel that this is so different from a war scenario where you expect to see death and trauma. On all occasions we were not expecting to experience anything so traumatic.

PTSD is one of the mental illnesses most associated with military service but there are a range of other more common mental illnesses which might affect Service and ex-Service personnel. These include depression, feelings of anxiety, panic attacks and substance misuse, most commonly alcohol misuse. Yet many of my friends in the Rescue Agencies have been in touch and said they were having problems as well. This was not just a military problem.

I am proud that in these dark days in 1988 we help raise the huge problems in the military with so many suffering from PTSD. This was not easy as the military and all the emergency services still did not acknowledge PTSD. We have come a long way since these days! I was slated at the time by the establishment for asking for help by those who should know better! Sadly many in the military, Mountain Rescue said I was wrong and to man – up. Our families and loved ones could not understand what we had been through.  Yet despite it was worth the effort, heartbreak and problems over many years I feel!

Sadly I still hear from those who served with me in Mountain Rescue and other Agencies and yet only recently after all these years have suffered for years on their own. Many are servicemen and despite the great work of Help for Heroes & Combat Stress it is still not easy for those needing help to get it? Is this just my dealings with a struggling resources?

Trying to get the correct help is difficult and trying to get help through a hugely overworked NHS can be extremely hard. Mental Health is hugely under-sourced  due to the huge need of those who want help. At one point I waited for 9 months to get an appointment with a Psychiatrist a  few years ago. I was lucky and I coped and am much better but what an awful journey! On my leaving medical with the RAF in 2007 I was asked how could I have PTSD as I was a Caterer by trade? I walked off in disgust this was not what I needed.

It is sad to see that mental illness is the biggest killer of males in Scotland of a certain age. Maybe it is because we Scots especially the males find it hard to talk about our demons!

We have a duty to each other to look after those we love and care for and If we see friends struggle we must to speak to them and get them help! This is not easy and hard to do and many suffer in silence. It’s to late at a funeral to be sad over the loss of a troubled pal a trusted friend yet we missed the signs! We get so close on Rescues or the companionship of the rope on a climb or on a long expedition, yet how often have we missed our pal in trouble but what do we say and how do we say it?

Life in a Rescue Agency  gives you many challenges, many of us who read this blog may have spent so much time looking for people and trying to help those we do not even know on the mountains and wild places  who are in trouble. Yet at times we miss those who we think are the toughest of men and women who suffer in silence until it’s too late? As I write this it is great to see the Scottish Mountain Rescue is running a TRIM course at Glenmore Lodge this weekend! This helps highlight the problems of PTSD for future generations who hopefully have learned from our mistakes in the past!

Things are getting better slowly.

If you have problems go to your local doctor or for the Military ” Combat Stress and “Help for Hero’s “and there to help as are many other Agencies for my many civilian friends. I would appreciate please could you send me details of any other organisations as I often get asked for advice. There is lots of information on line!

PTSD – that has been left untreated for a number of years or decades will require more intensive treatment. There are still positive health outcomes for sufferers, and the potential for a life beyond symptoms, but seeking suitable, timely treatment is key to maximising the chances of recovery. If PTSD is diagnosed early and the sufferer receives the right treatment in the right environment, rates of recovery are very positive. Veterans can live normal fulfilling lives, able to work with the condition and generally become symptom free for long periods.

There is a risk of delayed-onset of PTSD, where symptoms do not occur for years or decades after the traumatic event. Veterans who present with delayed-onset PTSD have often been exposed to the effects of multiple traumas over a longer period of time. This suggests that those who serve multiple tours are more at risk of developing PTSD several years after leaving the Military.

This does not just effect the military many Rescue Agencies have similar problems!

A look at this book on PTSD.

I have now read the above book by Professor Gordon Turnbull a RAF psychiatrist, now a World authority on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who assisted the RAF Mountain Rescue Teams after the Lockerbie disaster in December 1988. I must admit I was pretty shocked when I read in a paper this book had been published.

I was mentioned right at the beginning of the book and the paper as I had requested psychiatrist assistance for the RAF Teams after Lockerbie. The RAF and civilian mountain Rescue Teams where heavily involved in Lockerbie and though my experience was pretty varied at this time after 20 years of Mountain Rescue, this was a very different and traumatic experience. Gordon writes the story pretty well, but I feel if he had spoken to those involved a bit more he may have got a better overall view of how it affected many of the people who were there to this day. At the time I was criticised by some senior team members, as they felt help was not needed. Most who criticised were not there and this was a unique event, which was way out of anything I had experienced. Gordon gives credit the RAF MR for the way they dealt with the aftermath but he gives the St Athan Mountain Rescue team a hard time on how they dealt with his team during the debriefing after Lockerbie. I feel if he had spoken to those involved he may have understood why a bit better. You must remember they were there at Lockerbie and saw things that one will never forget. In all I am glad that the book has been written and would advise those involved in Rescue to have a read. A few of those in my team, still struggle with the aftermath of Lockerbie including myself. I am glad that PTSD is now recognised and hope this helps the Rescue Agencies, civilian teams and Dog handlers, some who still suffer badly from the effects of Lockerbie.

We have learned so much from these early days when as very young man or women we were thrown in to the situation recovering broken bodies from the hills. It was the way it was done then thank God things have moved on and we look after the young member’s a lot better. We now try to keep the trauma to a minimum of those who have to deal with it at the coal face, yet it still has to be done but the lessons and protocols are now in place.

Many who read this spent most of their lives looking after or for those in trouble on the hills and wild places. We I feel must look after those who were part of our Rescue Agencies even years after they have left. Keep your eyes on your pals and hopefully they will look after you and yours.

Take care and let’s look after each other!

Comments welcome.

Since this was written I have over 10 folks contact me thanks its appreciated and hopefully some will find help. I did a trip to America as part of the Cycle Ride to Syracuse in memory of those who died at Lockerbie a few years ago. It was hard for me and the small team to meet so many relatives, I found this extremely cathartic and it was incredible meeting so many folk and telling our small part in the tragedy. I also regularly meet folk of whom I was part of the recovery of their loved ones in the mountains. Again this is hard to do but does help me cope.   We all cope differently.

One reply

“As always your frank and honest writing about PTSD and it’s effects on military personnel, rescue and emergency services can only help those struggling with their lives. Lives in the aftermath of trauma, lives dedicated to the service of others and lives that have been involved in heroic actions.

Help is out there and that help can transform lives and reduce or negate the effects of PTSD. All GP’s should be able to refer to CBT and EMDR practitioners available on the NHS and these techniques really do work when practiced by empathetic and caring practitioners.

I would urge any of your readers to never give up on seeking help and to be brave in being part of a movement to remove the stigma of mental health in those who have dedicated their lives to the service of others. It is only right that you should receive the help that you need to heal the psychological wounds which left unresolved will determine your quality of life for the rest of your life.”


yet it’s the elephant in the room….any psychologist will tell you that those most vociferous in denial are often those worst affected…authorities both civil and military are only now beginning to recognise it…..as for “treatment”, it’s a matter of trust…in both organisations it doesn’t really exist as people affected have an innate fear of it affecting their careers…..being more subjective about it, i am glad i have paid privately to address it, worth every penny and although there’s no miracle cures, it’s a sure way to at least begin to function and rationalise….good article though, and cuts through the macho nonsense.”

Top Tips – It’s okay to talk

Who looks after the leader?

Who helps the families of those involved?  Take care out there.

Some information https://www.outpostcharity.org

Outpost Charity has been dedicated to providing support for Military Personnel, Veterans and their Families since 2014.

Today we continue providing emotional, social and practical support focusing on the Veterans Camp and the provision of household necessities goods and/or services.

Our aim is to provide relief from suffering and hardship for men or women who are or have at any time served with any branch of the British Armed Forces.

Our registered charity number: SC044790

Comment – Great contribution to raising awareness about mental health and lowering people’s reluctance to talking about their darker times. Sadly, in my dabbles and research about young people, I’ve seen how some people’s traumatic family experiences is effecting their present lives. I’m also more aware now of people beyond the military – nurses, social workers, police, care workers and more, who do crazy stuff on our behalf and then lie awake in the night reliving the experience.

Heavy Whalley Aug 2020

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Cycling, Friends, Health, medical, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, People, PTSD, Well being. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A podcast, for mental health some thinking time and a head clearing cycle later along the coast.

  1. Quackers says:

    Great piece Heavy. I read with interest the paragraph about how Gordon and his Team were given a hard time at St Athan which confuses me slightly. As you know I had the Team over that period during Lockerbie and for the Xmas period afterwards. I didn’t know they had a hard time during the debrief.
    After the Lockerbie incident it was found that all the other Teams and troops went home to their families and relatives to deal with the aftermath and horror, many were alone and I’m sure many bottled everything up in front of their families and were unable to talk freely about what they saw and witnessed. St Athan dealt with the aftermath slightly differently, we stayed together as a Team and continued up North on exercise for the remainder of the Xmas and New Year grant period. I’m sure this had a positive effect on the troops, we were able to chat, socialise and discus all aspects of the job for an extended period of time before returning home to our families and work colleagues.

    It’s interesting what you say about time though, it’s only lately as I get older I think deeply about the death we saw, not only about Lockerbie but other jobs over the years; aircraft crashes all over the Country, climbers, walkers, suicides etc etc. I don’t think we were trained adequately to deal with it at all. We blocked the seriousness of the situation out of our consciousness, almost operating sub-consciously to deal with the death we witnessed. My issue now when I consider the numerous incidents I attended is that we dealt with some of those incidents with a total lack of compassion and understanding of the implications that an individuals death would have on their families and friends. A robotic part of my MR career that is only just surfacing and one I wish I could go back to alter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very honest my friend I did try to be compassionate even had a burst up with a senior troop on dealing with fatalities.
      I have done a lot with families since that helps me mate.

      We need more guys like you to
      Speak out.

      Hindsight’s is such a great thing.

      Take care I appreciate you honesty.

      We were only young the point is to learn from our mistakes!
      Take care


  2. Norna Hall says:

    Have you come across this bunch? A mate (ex bomb disposal with his own demons) helps out at the veterans camps https://www.outpostcharity.org

    Liked by 1 person

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