Where to start…

I’ve just finished a week long event looking at RAF strategy and seeing how we, in our teams, can look to implement the changes we want to see that align with the future of the Service. On the face of it that is very high level strategic thinking, and with the personnel at the event being mainly junior in rank, it seemed like it might be a step too far. But then I got thinking, why should it be? Isn’t that how all startup organisations start? Isn’t that how the idea of Buddy Check started? Given the right tools and guidance anything is possible.

When we started looking at the idea of what Buddy Check would look like, from the outset was how do we improve mental health wellbeing in the Armed Forces community. Pretty high level strategic thinking. We needed to use a way in which we can break this down. To use startup up talk. To reach our goal we will use agile methodology, specifically scrum principles and sprints. Where there is a point of failure, we shall pivot in a new direction. By continuing this process we will reach our goal. In non-startup terms, we’re going to take our top goal and break it down into smaller ones. If we can’t achieve one of those goals we’ll look at a different way to achieve it. Simple, right?

So how did we get to where we are today? Firstly we looked at that top goal. Improve mental health wellbeing in the Armed Forces Community. Huge goal. Not one that can be achieved by doing one single task. So we break it down.
Improve the way the Armed Forces mental health and welfare services are funded. Other than becoming an MP and being appointed into the top roles this seems unachievable. However we can influence those in power so we can park that for the time being.
Improve the way personnel are managed in the Armed Forces. Once again, other than getting promoted to the top positions this is unlikely. However we can influence them, so we’ll come back to that one too.
Improve access to professional care. I’m not a professional, but I do know some and the organisations they work for. We could work with that. More research needed and be in a position to be able to offer the service. One to consider for the future.
Improve communication between the Armed Forces community. I am part of that community. I have had poor mental health in the past. I talked to my colleagues and friends about these problems. I wrote a blog and published it for the world to see. I got feedback from others who are serving and veterans who knew what I was going through and shared different ways they used to improve theirs. This is where we’ll start.

From the beginning we knew that if we are going to get people to open up we need to make it anonymous. The biggest hurdle for anyone to talk about their problems is whose going to know about what they’ve said and how quickly that could spread. Especially on units where everyone knows each other. By being able to have that ability for to hide your true identity, it allows a certain amount of freedom to be able to say exactly what you need and reach out for the support you need to help improve your mental health.
We knew blogs were a good way of getting off your chest what is really going on inside your head. I’ve wrote quite a few, and I’ve read hundreds more. They are a really good way to get everything out in the open. Even when you struggle to say it to anyone. When I was really at my lowest I would write a blog then show it to my wife. I could never find the words to say it out loud, so this was my way of being able to express myself to her. It definitely brought us closer together and got us through our darkest moments.
To have a site that is just blogs would be alright, but we needed more. Live chat was our next thought. We are constantly on our phones messaging each other via WhatsApp, Facebook, etc., so it only made sense to try and incorporate this. Initially we have decided to go with a web group chat. This is mainly because it is easier to keep that anonymous profile, allowing for more freedom of speech. In the future we could run this alongside having professionals giving live talks so we can get that all round group discussion and advice from those in the know. Just one way we can pivot the service in a different direction. We have also opened a Discord server to allow for gamers, and others if they choose, to be able to get online have a chat and escape off into the whatever games they want to play. We can also link into other servers as well to be able to open up to a broader audience. Yet another pivot from the original idea.
Forums have always been a great way to get information on the internet so it only makes sense to have one on ours. You can post links to articles, quickly ask for help about certain topics, give nuggets of advice, you name it you can do it within a forum. It can take a while for these to become useful so we might need to leave this for a while to mature. Alternatively we can look at how we’ve set it up and see if there’s another way to do it. What we do know is once it starts gaining traction this will be an invaluable asset to our services.
Having groups on the site is something that we have toyed with for a while. There are so many ways you can do them. There can also be overkill in how many there is with very similar themes and ideas. You only have to look on Facebook and do a search for any topic. They are literally thousands and it can all get a bit too much. It can be a nice way of identify yourself within a particular topic so we’ll see how it goes. We will also be encouraging our partner organisations to create their own groups so you can get in touch with them directly and ask them questions that you otherwise wouldn’t think to do.
As always we will be looking to improve these services and add more in the future in necessary and wanted by you the members.

There we have it. We have taken our short sprints in online communication and produced anonymous membership, blogs, live chat, forums, and groups. This will help us achieve our initial aim of improving communication in the Armed Forces community. This in turn will help us work towards our goal of improving mental health wellbeing in the Armed Forces Community. New ways of thinking to solve an age old problem.

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