A COVID-19 hack the Salvation Army desperately need in the field…

Front line staff are constantly at risk during the global pandemic, and the Salvation Army believe that an instant COVID risk screening test & a rapid translation app would lower that risk.

With ‘The Global Hack’ kicking off in a matter of hours, it’s heartening to see so many worthy projects being submitted that align with the various UN sustainability goals that the event has been shaped around.

The goal is simple, each virtual team needs to work together to develop an MVP over a 48hr period, delivering a practical solution that aligns with one, or more, of the program streams that include crisis, governance, education, environment, mental health, solidarity in action, empowerment, health & wellness, and work.

A quick review of the various project submissions reveals that whilst the crisis track is popular, teams are also forward-looking, so tracks like education, health, empowerment, mental health and work have a lot of interest.

Front-line care workers are arguably at most risk of exposure in the community, yet they continue to show up day after day because they know they must or people will suffer, and in some communities, starve. In Philadelphia, The Salvation Army has a veritable army of volunteers handing out food boxes every morning, risking exposure, so we asked them to tell us about what life is like in their community today and what hack they need tomorrow.

Can you tell me about your day to day work in the community?

Our agency (The Salvation Army) and church are in an at-risk neighborhood in Philadelphia. Within this community there is quite a bit of need during normal times which is multiplied during these days.

Our typical day begins at about 7:30 as we await the delivery of either perishable or non-perishable food. We have the sidewalks marked with bright red tape set six feet apart. This is our attempt to keep social distancing for a mass distribution.

Our distribution is set to begin at 10am and people begin to line up about 8:30 with the line stretching about 500 meters up the side streets. Once we know how many packages we have, we count out tickets in that number to be handed out. At about 10am we begin to hand out the boxes. It goes very quickly for the most part.

All volunteers are wearing masks and gloves; many of those in line are wearing masks as well. For the most part, by 11am the food has been handed out, so far this has ranged between 400-500 boxes per day. Those who cannot get a box are encouraged to come back earlier the next distribution day. We also set boxes aside to do home delivery of food to the elderly.

What is your biggest challenge or risk?

Obviously, this front-line work exposes us and our volunteers and staff to the virus. It also exposes those who line up to greater risk as well. We do our best to enforce social distancing – but the increased risk is there, nonetheless.

In our context, there are many language groups which makes effective communication difficult. Also, will we have enough supply or will we run out of product? So, effectively communicating important information to all language groups is a concern and challenge, and I’m certain this would extend to city/state and federal government as well.

The longer this crisis lasts, the more likely it is that we will run out of regular supplies – especially at the volume and rate we are distributing, which is another risk as it could cause unrest, particularly in inner city neighbourhoods like ours.

How are you currently managing this risk?

When serving publicly we wear masks and gloves. We also wash our hands regularly. At the beginning of the crisis we did not have these protections, but as things have progressed, it was provided.

What one issue could The Global Hack solve for you?

An easy translation app that could be used in the heat of battle. Also, an instant test that tells us if someone has a temp or even tell us quickly is someone has the virus (or a future virus!).

Smart solutions for reducing the risk and impact of COVID-19

Technologies we took for granted yesterday will soon save lives tomorrow. COVID-19 has forced 3 billion people into lock down around the globe, but even that hasn’t stopped some enterprising cohorts of talent around the world from coming together to apply their skills, experience and knowledge to developing potential solutions to deal with the pandemic.

Earlier today I spoke with 22yr old Sophie Wharrie, Chief Technology Officer at Velmio, who’s globally distributed team recently developed a Corona tracker app. It’s a data driven app to help you monitor the COVID-19 outbreak and contribute to research efforts worldwide.

Normally working on pregnancy health tracking, the team volunteered time to develop a data driven app to help you monitor the COVID-19 outbreak and contribute to research efforts worldwide.

Users simply download the app and answer some questions about their symptoms and risk factors. They can also share their location and data from their wearable devices, to help data scientists create a visualization of how the virus is spreading and help everyone understand the risk level around them.

Velmio developed the Corona-tracker app in response to Estonia’s “Hack the Crisis” virtual hackathon event, ranking within the top 5 teams to receive support from Accelerate Estonia, Limitless Fund and Bolt to further develop their project during the state of emergency.

The “Hack the Crisis” movement has since spread across the world, with start-ups coming together to solve urgent issues in their local communities as part of The Global Hack which has already drawn attention across the globe – covered by Forbes, Silicon Republic, GovInsider among others – and brought on board a fleet of world-class mentors, such as Silicon Valley’s tech superstar Steve Jurvetson, former President of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Chris Anderson – Head of TED

Across the pond in Pittsburgh, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a BETA version of an app that aims to determine whether you might have COVID-19 simply by analyzing your voice. Worldwide, there are particularly widespread shortages of testing kits, so whilst the app’s results are preliminary and untested, it has the potential to be a highly scalable solution.

And in Korea, a local developer has developed a data visualisation app using public government data to allow users to see how close they are to confirmed Covid-19 patients, with the app alerting users if they are within 100m of a location visited by Covid-19 patients.

Regardless of whether you’re perfectly healthy, infected or recovered, thanks to smart technology, globally connected talent and 3 billion people working from home, now is an ideal time to connect and work together to help each other fight the crisis and bring this pandemic to a swift end.

The power of Voice to make a difference

It’s little surprise that the country that holds one of the world’s largest song festivals has made voice-enabled technology a priority in its next evolution of delivering seamless digital government services.

Voice-enabled services are arguably the technology that will change the lives of almost everyone connected to the internet. Consider the facts; at present, around 20% of all searches are voice, around 30% of smartphone users worldwide use voice tech at least once a week, and astonishingly, it’s estimated that around 50% of all online searches will be voice-based in the next year or two.

Voice platforms have evolved remarkably in recent years, and continue to evolve at a rapid pace, turning voice from a ‘nice to have’ path to market for public and private entities into a ‘must have’ solution, primarily because voice facilitates the one thing end users crave, convenience.

Kaimar Karu, Estonia’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Information Technology, sums it up nicely.
“A defining factor of what will be the ‘next big thing’ is often based on what makes life easier or more convenient for ‘lazy people’”, he said. “We are all lazy people in that sense, so anything that helps us to be slightly more lazy, to put in less effort or work less in order to achieve something or get something is quite likely to be well used, popular and needed.”

It’s this focus on ‘end-user’ convenience that underpins Estonia’s recently published #KrattAI framework which aims to deliver the next evolution of digital public services in Estonia. It’s essentially a vision of how public services should digitally work in the age of artificial intelligence (AI), and one of its core use cases is that it would provide people with the opportunity to use public direct and informational services by voice-based interaction with AI-based virtual assistants.

The ultimate goal is that #KrattAI is an interoperable network of public sector AI applications (agents, bots, assistants, etc) as well as private sector ones, which would work from the user perspective as a single, united channel for accessing public direct and informational services. In the simplest terms, it’s an interoperable voice enabled platform that will make everyday life easier for Estonians.

Looking specifically at the health care sector, the potential use cases of voice are countless and have the potential to improve the value and efficiency of care. Book an appointment with your doctor or specialist of choice through a mobile app that has Alexa integration. Doctors could use voice analysis to identify behavioural health issues. Family members could program their elderly parents Alexa Echo to remind them of the time they have to take their medication. Physicians could utilize voice to text enabled programs to streamline the process of taking patient notes, the list goes on.

Which is probably why voice is such a hot topic in the global hacker community. At a recent hackathon in Italy, voice took centre stage when a local team developed a solution to help isolated elderly people stay connected. Likewise, in the upcoming “The Global Hack” event which is attracting literally thousands of designers, programmers, data scientists and health care workers, to explore how to rapidly hack tech to deliver solutions to COVID-19, it’s expected voice solutions will be a hot topic.

The Global Hack is a partnership between Accelerate Estonia, Garage48, with additional financial support from the European Commission, running from 09-12 April and is expected to attract over 1 million participants from across the world.

The coder who used Python in 2000 is now in charge of Estonia’s space program

Twenty years ago, Kaimar Karu lead a web development agency at a time when 80% of internet users used Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, internet speeds were measured in kilobytes, people used computers to access the Internet, and the dominant coding language was PHP.

Yet at that time, Karu encouraged his dev team to code in Python, today’s coding language of choice in the epoch of AI and Machine Learning. Why? Because, in his view, Python was better.

“We delivered projects using Python at a time where everybody was using PHP, so we were outliers who used different languages simply because we thought it worked best. Throughout my career I have had the opportunity to work with amazing, forward-looking people who have rarely settled for the status quo. Now look at the world, Python is everywhere,” Karu said.

Today, as the Minister of Foreign Trade and Information Technology for the Republic of Estonia, he’s leading ICT strategy for his country from earth to space, yet he’s typically Estonian about it.

“When I describe my role, I’d jokingly say it’s everything from post box to space. Which is kind of what it is as I’m in charge of Estonian post and the Estonian space program, among other things,” he remarked.

In the middle of a global pandemic, it’s this type of self-effacing mindset, backed by a capacity to think like an outlier and make pragmatic decisions in real-time that has to be one of the reasons Estonia is emotionally weathering the COVID-19 pandemic better than most EU countries.

“We’re a small country and I believe that our real competitive advantage is pragmatism and lack of patience for everything stupid. Estonians have proven to live by a ‘can do’ attitude. We aren’t afraid of taking risks, experimenting, building on what works and abandoning what doesn’t.”

Arguably, Estonia’s inherent pragmatism and appetite for risk and innovation is a result of the fact their country literally had to start from scratch after regaining independence in 1991. How they then moved from independence to become the world’s most digitized government is legendary.

“Estonia’s world-leading position in tech is built on luck and hard work. We were lucky, in a sense, to have the need to build our economy, our government, our collaboration models from scratch after regaining independence. This created a context where everything was possible – and we took this opportunity to build something that no-one else thought was possible,” he said.

Today, most services offered by Estonia’s government are made available electronically via a national Digital I.D. that empowers people to vote, access health data, manage tax, police records and prescriptions online. But they’re not stopping there. Next on the to-do list are projects such as migrating most government services to voice under the #KrattAI framework, as well as exploring ongoing innovation in the education and the environmental sectors.

Through Minister Karu’s eyes, necessity is the mother of invention.

“We started by building a foundation where we could build everything else. Then, we just did what felt right and it seems to have worked and still does. So far, the choice of focus has been organic, whenever there’s a need, innovation will happen. Today, during the crisis, everything will shift, and everything will change, and innovation must happen in a very rapid way because it requires significant changes in our everyday lives,” he said.

Estonia’s short but proud history of innovation built through public private partnerships makes it the perfect home to launch a global initiative to develop solutions and strategies to directly address the COVID-19 crisis via The Global Hack that’s being led in partnership between Accelerate Estonian, the innovation unit in Karu’s ministry, and Garage48, with additional financial support from the European Commission.

The global hackathon is a platform and a movement that gathers the brightest minds over the world from the public and private sectors, which is the key way that it differs from other hacks – that this crisis unquestionably needs strong cooperation between the public and private sector.

When asked about some of the expected outcomes he’d like to see from The Global Hack, Minister Karu is cautiously optimistic.

“We are quite likely to find quite a few amazing ideas coming from this, I expect the teams are likely to come up with completely novel solutions, because many of the old ways don’t work anymore, and today’s world does need bravery and novelty. The opportunity to gather great minds from around the world to work together on most critical challenges and find questions to acute questions is simply invaluable. By combining potential solutions with governmental and legislative support, we are in a good position to act fast” he said.

The tech community initiative – “The Global Hack“ online hackathon – will run from 09-12 April and is expected to attract over 1 million participants from across the world.

A first-hand account of being quarantined with COVID-19…

Saturday, March 7th was a life changing day for 48yr old Tiit Müil. Attending the Saaremaa Mullifestival – Estonia’s biggest Champagne and Sparkling Wine Festival – without a care in the world, he spent the day mingling with the crowd of revellers, spending hours savouring some of the best food and wine from around the world.

A first-hand account of being quarantined with COVID-19…

Little did he or the crowd know that COVID-19 had arrived on Estonia’s shores just days before. How could they have known, as COVID-19 was barely making news headlines in other countries? So Tiit and co enjoyed their weekend and returned home as the weekend came to a close.

But on Monday 9th March, Tiit knew something wasn’t right.

“On Monday, I started feeling chills, but they didn’t seem too serious, so I still made it to two exercise classes. But I knew something wasn’t right after I came out of the sauna. I normally feel warm and good for hours, but I immediately noticed I had chills when I got into the car, and then I realised I had a fever when I got home,” he said.

What Tiit would soon discover was that Saaremaa had become the epicentre of Estonia’s coronavirus outbreak, and that he, and hundreds of other people had inadvertently been exposed to the virus that has now claimed in excess of 75,000 lives worldwide.

“When I took my temperature, it was 37.5 degrees, so I did what most Estonians do, I drank tea with honey and ate garlic. I was delighted to wake up Tuesday morning to discover the fever was gone, so I couldn’t imagine anything was seriously wrong as the virus hadn’t officially arrived in Estonia yet.

But on Wednesday, I developed a dry cough, which was ironically the first day announcements started in the media explaining what was going on. Then Thursday morning the fever returned so I didn’t go to work. In the evening the fever got worse, my temperature hit 38.8 degrees as I waited 36hrs for my test results. They arrived Friday, by which time the fever had already gone.”

What was your experience like of having the virus?

“I was officially declared the first sick with the coronavirus in Pärnu, but I didn’t experience any breathing or lung problems; in fact, I could breathe really well. I did sweat a lot on Friday, and I had a very strange headache that felt like something I’d never felt before. Sort of felt like under my skull there was no feeling at all.

What did you think of the media coverage of the virus?

“In the beginning, I was trying to get as much information about the virus as I could from the media and news, but I came across a lot of fake news that caused me a lot of anxiety and caused me to have something like a panic attack. I had to go to sleep to calm down. Since then, I don’t read news anymore because I’m trying to live without getting caught up in the negativity.”

What did you do after being told you had the virus?

“I stayed at home as best I could, and the health ministry called me every week asking how I was doing. I didn’t take any drugs at all, I just ate healthy foods, drank tea, and tried about 10 different types of vitamins. Whilst in quarantine, I had the option to go back to work remotely, but it was hard to read and concentrate. I didn’t really watch TV. My partner and I did sneak out for a couple of walks through our separate entrance to our apartment, but we made sure to stay away from everyone as we walked to the sea. It was just hard to stay indoors, even in our large apartment.

To be officially deemed healthy, I was supposed to give two negative tests, but these never happened because testing capabilities were low. In the end, I just went back to work on the 30th.”

Any advice for people out there?

“Stay positive. Stay Healthy. Keep in touch.”

The global hunger for health-tech may just save us all

Health-Tech – the world’s second fastest growing innovation sector, with an almost unprecedented growth trajectory – is a far more interesting sector than it initially sounds.

It’s interesting because the health care sector is desperate for disruption and innovation all the way along the value chain from improving patient delivery of care, right through to back office innovations that improve interoperability of an array of legacy enterprise systems with a widening array of nimble, purpose built databases, applications, platforms and devices.

From a tech innovation perspective, innovating within the health care sector has its own unique and often endemic challenges around data protection, system interoperability, a seemingly endless array of stakeholders with complex and sometimes counterintuitive needs, and an at times frustratingly snail-like pace of change on the path to modernization.

Yet despite the abovementioned challenges, the growth in health tech start-ups globally is simply astounding. Possibly, this is being driven by three key factors;

1. Consumers (patients) have come to expect technology innovations in every area of their lives, so they are forcing &/or challenging their carers to make their lives easier.

2. Health care administrators are under increasing pressure to streamline and become more efficient – much like everywhere else – because the bottom-line ultimately rules.

3. And finally, there seems to be a genuinely understood hunger by the people within health care to work with health tech start-ups simply because it’s a cohort of passionate entrepreneurs hoping to solve their day-to-day problems.

That why it’s not surprising that events like The Global Hack attract literally thousands of designers, programmers, data nerds, scientists and health care workers, all vying to create the new-new thing to disrupt their sector and improve the quality of health care.

Case in point, the recent #HACKTHEVIRUS event that was pulled together by Garage48 and Accelerate Estonia with the stated goal of the event being to rapidly uncover innovative solutions to fight the COVID-19 pandemic with the power of community. The event attracted 1,000+ hackers and resulted in 5 winners who won $5k for execution of their moon-shot idea.

This, in turn, led to the upcoming “The Global Hack“ online hackathon running from 09-12 April and which is expected to attract over 1 million participants from across the world. The event is being led in partnership between Accelerate Estonia, the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Information Technology, Garage48, with additional financial support from the European Commission.

At a time where fully half the planets population is in lockdown, what better cause can there be than to team up online and combine forces to tackle the world’s most serious issue?

Life after Fleeing ‘The Cult of Speed’: The Cost of Living a 4ish Hour Work Week

Time and I have always had a tenuous, love–hate relationship. Like many of my colleagues and coworkers, I’ve measured my life by the clock, and my happiness has been in no small part dependent on how productive I am day by day, yet recently I’ve realized the error of this mentality.

Recognizing that I was caught up in The Cult of Speed was the trigger for me to take stock and reassess my life after being in the workforce for a quarter century.

I’d been experiencing a general malaise that leaves you drained at the end of a working week, and mildly anxious on Sunday nights in anticipation of the week ahead. I knew something had to change, and that I alone was responsible for making that happen.

So, I bit the bullet and negotiated my role into that of a remote part-time worker. Then did the one big thing that needed to happen if I was to give myself the best chance for a real life ‘post cult’, I packed up my house and bought a ticket to Estonia.

As a writer, I find that books often play both a practical and a poetic role in my life. They inspire me to action, and likewise impel me to seek more adventurous paths. After re-reading Tim Ferriss’ #1 New York Times bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek I was (I admit somewhat naively) emboldened that Estonia was indeed the panacea that would help me reclaim my life as my own.

Within days of arriving in Tallinn I discovered the hard way how badly I’d bought into our cultural predilection and esteem for being productive and constantly connected.

I became frustrated because the pace was too slow, and my calendar was too clear.

Looking at the past two months, nothing could have prepared me for the ‘barrage of me’ the moment the clock’s hold over me waned. I found that the days that were once filled with a seemingly endless stream of tasks demanding my attention – days that all too often stretched into weeks and months – suddenly became quieter, simpler. But this quiet quickly became deafening.

The first sign that there was trouble in paradise was when I noticed a nagging self-doubt had surfaced. A new inner voice emerging that asked me what I was doing, what I’d achieved today, did I still think I was doing the right thing.

I honestly began to fear quiet moments.

I’ve had a 20yr love affair with efficiency and speed. I’m as guilty as the next guy in that every time I had a quiet moment for reflective thought, I almost immediately avoided it by escaping to my mobile devices. So, the first thing you do when you find yourself doubting yourself is you overcompensate. You discover – much like a recently released prisoner – that you crave structure, the safety of structure. You fill your calendar with little tasks, minor missions to accomplish, just so you have the satisfaction of ticking off another item on your to-do list.

At the same time, you notice that small things take on near epic proportions. Your ever so recently overextended brain goes into overdrive trying to fill the void, seeking distractions. Truth is that the sheer volume of free time is almost overwhelming…almost.

But something interesting happens between the nagging inner voices and the time wasted fussing over small things, you start to appreciate small moments: the way you’re pulled out of your head by the feel of snow against your skin as you cross the street; the taste of different foods in a country on the opposite side of the planet; quiet, uncluttered city streets.

As enough time passes – after you experience a few of these moments of fleeting happiness – you begin to let the voices in. You hear them, but you also start to challenge them. When I started this journey, I was awaking around 6am and realizing I didn’t have anything particular to get up for.

The thought was simply terrifying.

Same thing happened this week, but this time I laughed and let the thought go.

Living a simpler, unplugged, 4-Hour-Workweek lifestyle has turned out to be a blessing and a curse. It’s forced me to stop and listen to voices than are far darker than I could have imagined. Voices that are deeply rooted in a Western mindset that does not favor quiet introspection. Yet these very same voices, these softly spoken doubts that result from our ingrained mindset of being focused and productive, reveal the inherent flaw in our thinking.

We’ve become a hyper-focused species, yet our point of focus tends to be external.

Too often our attention is focused on something ‘out there’, with our attention and focus turned toward, engaged with someone or something outside of ourselves. Similarly, we’re so focused on the return we get from the investment of our time – on our productivity – that we’re fundamentally blind to the benefits of ‘down time’.

IMHO, we’ve inadvertently become a species who need to be constantly distracted and entertained; almost as if we fear confronting our own realities. Yet if there’s one thing I’ve learned in this time away, it’s that there’s immense joy to be had in unplugging and spending time disconnected.

Those thinking of taking on the nomad life need to be aware that it won’t always be comfortable or easy. But what would you give to have the opportunity to discover a quiet place within you that is yours and yours alone? I gave up an entire life, and I think the price I paid was fair.

It’s my hope for people who find themselves contemplating the ‘’nomad’ existence, a ‘no fixed address’ itinerant lifestyle, find the courage to take that first step, because it’s worth it…

Dents in the soul – living with PTSD

Two years ago, my untreated PTSD cost me my marriage, and almost my life. Why? Because I didn’t think it was as bad as it was, and I was too ashamed to ask for help, which when you think about life in the military is a completely bullshit excuse.

Military units are the sum total of ALL its moving parts. When one part isn’t working, the unit starts to break down. In uniform, when we saw a mate struggling through the obstacle course, or out in the field, we helped them. But out here on ‘civi’ street where we  often don’t have our mates within arms reach, we try and deal with our shit alone.

The fact that so many of our fellow veterans are harming themselves, and even worse – taking their own lives – is testament to the fact that trying to fight this alone doesn’t work. Whether you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, or just know in your soul that something just ain’t right, the only way you get better is to understand what PTSD is, and isn’t, and then begin reach out to mates or professionals to get it under control.

Here’s a primer on PTSD, gratefully supplied by the DVA.

PTSD – The Basics

Traumatic events such as those involving actual or threatened death or serious injury, or witnessing human deprivation (eg. regions ravaged by famine or war), can have a strong impact on your mental health and wellbeing. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is one of a range of mental disorders that individuals can experience after traumatic events. PTSD can be distressing with negative consequences for your health and wellbeing. It can affect anyone, but there is help available.

Army, in conjunction with Joint Health Command and singer songwriter John Schumann, have produced a 30-minute documentary designed to address stigma, offer support and raise awareness of the issues surrounding PTSD for Army personnel and their families. Featuring Army members who share their own experiences with PTSD, the movie supports the important message of look after yourself, your mates and your family.

This documentary aims to de-stigmatise PTSD and to show that it can potentially happen to anyone who has been exposed to a traumatic event. Developing symptoms of post traumatic stress after exposure to trauma is not a sign of weakness it is simply being human.

Recovery rates from PTSD are high but early diagnosis and treatment are particularly important. Generally, the longer the symptoms persist, and go untreated, the longer the eventual recovery will take and the greater the disruption to the person’s work, family and enjoyment of life.

Singer Songwriter John Schumann, who wrote I Was Only 19, is the narrator of the documentary and helps walk viewers through diagnosis, treatment and effects of PTSD on individuals and their families. John Schumann also shares his personal experience with PTSD in the film.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a traumatic event?
What is traumatic for one person may not be so for another. However, it is generally accepted that certain events, like threat of death, serious injury, seeing dead bodies, death or serious injury of a close friend/colleague/family member or witnessing wide spread human degradation, have the potential to cause significant distress.

What are the main symptoms of traumatic stress?
Most people will normally experience strong reactions after traumatic events. Commonly, these include re-living the event, having intrusive thoughts about the event, avoiding anything that reminds them of the event, feeling sad and tearful, feeling highly anxious or panicky, sleep disturbances, being easily startled, extreme irritability, difficulties concentrating or remembering, excessive use of alcohol or drugs, and relationship problems.

If I am experiencing symptoms of traumatic stress, when should I seek help?
The initial symptoms of traumatic stress would be expected to subside after 2 to 4 weeks since the traumatic event. If the symptoms persist longer than this, you should seek professional help to manage the symptoms and to reduce their impact upon your ability to function.

If I have symptoms of traumatic stress, will I automatically get PTSD?
No. There is a continuum of how people react to PTEs or CIs, from mild disturbance to quite severe impact. Generally, the more severe the reaction, the more likely a person is to develop PTSD – however, if the symptoms diminish within a few weeks, it is less likely that the person will go on to develop PTSD.

What is PTSD?
PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a serious mental illness that can occur after exposure to a traumatic event. It is characterised by repeated and disturbing images or memories of the event, avoiding places or situations that remind people of the event and significant hyper-arousal including exaggerated startle responses and sleep problems.

If I have PTSD, does this mean I’m going crazy?
PTSD is a serious mental illness that will significantly impact upon a person’s quality of life. It does not mean you are going to change to an entirely different person, or not be able to lead a quality life.

I have watched the DVD, now what?
The booklet and website accompanying the PTSD DVD includes guidelines for accessing support for issues or questions raised by viewing the DVD. The booklet suggests that questions are written down and then discussed with local mental health professionals or providers. These are described in the booklet as Nurses, Chaplains, Psychologists, Social Workers, Psychiatrists or Medical Officers. The possibility of discussing the DVD and questions that arise with mates or the Chain of Command is also suggested.

The booklet and website includes contact details for additional resources including the Army Wounded Digger website, DCO, VVCS, DVA, Defence Families Australia, Mental Health, JHC, the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health and the All Hours Support Line.

Additional Resources and Contacts

All Hours Support Line (ASL)
– 1800 628 036
– http://www.defence.gov.au/Health/DMH/AllHoursSupportLine.asp

Defence Family Helpline (Defence Community Organisation)
– 1800 624 608
– http://www.defence.gov.au/DCO/Defence-Helpline.asp

Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS)
– 1800 011 046
– http://www.vvcs.gov.au/

Mental Health
– http://www.defence.gov.au/Health/HealthPortal/MentalHealthOnline.asp

Joint Health Command
– www.defence.gov.au/health/

Wounded Digger
– http://www.army.gov.au/Army-life/Wounded-Injured-and-Ill-Digger

Defence Families of Australia
– www.dfa.org.au

Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA)
– 13 32 54
– www.dva.gov.au

Australian Centre for Post Traumatic Mental Health (ACPMH)
– http://www.acpmh.unimelb.edu.au/

The text message that saved me from suicide inspired my business

As a start-up founder, PTSD Awareness Week almost killed me… The irony of this isn’t lost on me for a moment. As a veteran with Complex PTSD, maybe putting my foot into the start-up ring before I had all my mental ducks in a row wasn’t such a good idea.

But, I jumped in anyway, because the army taught me that courage is acting despite fear, and relentlessly pressing forward is how we win.

Yet, in the very week the media beseeched us to spare a moment’s thought for those 2M Australian’s dealing with PTSD – the very same week I discover my 66wk old start-up has received Defence funding and received an invitation to meet with the Minister for Veteran Affairs – I’m completely unable to leave my bed. I spent three days wrapped in blankets, working hard to deny the voices that reify my Imposter Syndrome, telling me I’m not qualified. I can’t do this. I’m a failure / fool / traitor / etc.

I just wanted to find some peace

I launched Soldier.ly after my suicide attempt in 2016 was interrupted by an SMS, and we’ve since created world-first, international award-winning tech that lets people detect and manage stress on a Fitbit smartwatch. This year, I’ve been flown to Switzerland to accept a global innovation award and recently returned from the U.S. after meeting with people who will turn our little company into a global catalyst. While all this sounds incredibly exciting, the point is despite all the bright lights and attention, all I wanted to do was pull away from the world and find some peace.

But, I’m a veteran, and this kind of thinking isn’t new to far too many of my veteran mates. Our rate of mental health issues spans depression, anxiety and chronic stress from our service to this country that’s twice the national average. But after 16 months in this space, and after speaking with other founders who’ve burnt out, literally collapsed in the streets from exhaustion, and destroyed intimate / personal relationships out of their commitment to ‘the win’, I’m glad to find I’m not alone.

I’m not here to whinge. Quite the opposite. I’m simply openly saying what too many of us fear to say, start-up life is a fucking hard slog, and things need to change.

Entrepreneurs, according to a study by Michael Freeman, are 50% more likely to report having a mental health condition, with some specific conditions being incredibly prevalent amongst founders. Founders are:

6X more likely to suffer from ADHD

3X more likely to suffer from substance abuse

10X more likely to suffer from bi-polar disorder

2X more likely to have psychiatric hospitalisation

2X more likely to have suicidal thoughts

The first thing that falls away is the time I spent looking after myself

It’s no surprise why. I spend so much time worrying about finding, hiring and firing the people we need, making sure we can keep the doors open, filtering good advice from bad, choosing to pivot (or not), balancing work, life, money, time etc. that the first thing that falls away is the essential time I used to take to look after myself.

Our economy, our society, desperately needs entrepreneurs. Our self-selected, self-flagellating gig is to create jobs, new markets, products and services, and hopefully, make enough money to live…let along thrive and survive. To be honest, I have zero desire to be the next Elon Musk or Mark (the robot) Zuckerberg. But I’m 100% committed to solving the problem I’ve invested my life savings and reputation on.

I’m not going to end veteran suicide; I accept that. The Senator from Townsville’s recent impassioned speech about the burden on our community and the families who are left to grieve – after those we love or served with did the unforgivable and gave up – is what gets me out of bed 99% of the time.

I accept during my dark moments that I have to be alive to play a role in being part of the change that’s needed so we bury less mates. So, whilst it’s difficult to admit that I have a mental health issue, I have to go on record as I’ve discovered I’m not alone.

Ridiculous transparency and admitting when we struggle, fuck up or miss a turn is a crucial part of Soldier.ly’s company culture. So yes, I often contemplate a world where I don’t have to get out of bed, far more than I’d like to admit. But then I remember why I started, and I turn and face the wonderful people around me who’ve been such a significant part of our journey. I do what the women I lost getting to where I am today reminded me almost daily to do: breathe, and be vulnerable.

You must have courage to ask for help

Vulnerability means admitting we can’t do this alone. It also means having the courage to ask for help. Both of which are deeply foreign to me, though I’m slowly learning to step outside my comfort zone.

Darren Chester, Minister for Veteran Affairs Darren Chester is deeply invested in supporting our veterans, and the Department of Veteran Affairs are working hard to serve the veterans who reach out to them for support, but even in my community, far too few of us ask for help, for a range of reasons spanning confusion, social stigma, and lack of time. That’s why it’s essential start-ups like mine, RedSix and Swiss 8 do the grunt work that desperately needs to be done at our level to create change.

I’d argue that the start-up community needs to do the same thing we’ve started doing in the veteran community. Start-up founders need to support their peers. Likewise, we need to have the courage to admit we’re not OK.

Famed TED talk social researcher and vulnerability guru Brene Brown said specifically about my community that when pondering life after service, the problem for men and women who’ve served ‘on purpose’ is that when transitioning to life as a civilian ‘just living isn’t enough’.

I’d argue that’s equally true for founders. We don’t choose this life because it’s an easy path. There’s a measure of hope, belief and sweat required to stay on mission. It’s that certainty of purpose that got us started, but as I’ve recently learned, it’s the support of our cohort that keeps that fire alive.

As a veteran & founder, I find I’m getting better at surviving this epic journey the more frequently I have the courage to admit I don’t have all the answers. Today, when I find myself struggling at this vertiginous life, I actively seek support.

That doesn’t mean that I always find it, but it’s certainly helping me stay out of bed on the days I’d rather emulate a Groundhog and avoid daylight, and that’s a start…

Will a royal commission into veteran suicide address the larger issue?

Republished article from Defence Connect

Australia’s service personnel answer the call to protect the nation and its interests – with single-minded dedication and commitment to keeping Australia secure. However, when they return from far-flung combat zones or from responding to humanitarian disasters, they face another battle, one the nation needs to do more on to support them through, writes Chris Rhyss Edwards of Soldier.ly.

As a veteran, I want to go on record to say I support the aims and intent of a royal commission into veteran suicides. But, I’m saddened that it could cost $100 million, take five years, and drag families who’ve suffered the loss of sons and daughters through even more hours of unnecessary pain – most likely without any thought to the emotional wringer this will put them through – for what we ‘hope’ is a set of findings that will effect real change… though likely not. It’s going to get ugly.

In recent years, the public’s become more aware of the suicide rate in Australia, likely because of increasing news coverage of veterans who’ve safely made it home from war zones, only to take their own lives for all manner of complex reasons I hope the commission comes to understand. The statistics are sobering.

We’ve lost more soldiers to suicide than fighting in Afghanistan, and – on average – we suffer another veteran death by suicide every four days. That’s why I am grateful the public outrage is finally catching up to the redacted outrage in our community. But, if this royal commission solely focuses on veterans’ lives lost by suicide, or almost lost (like me) through suicide attempts, then we’re missing the larger point.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians 15 to 44 years of age. Yes, one segment of the veteran community sits at twice the national average when it comes to death by suicide, but our deaths make up only a fraction of the circa 3,000 suicides in this country each year.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to diminish the importance of undertaking an official inquiry to understand why we lose around 80-100 veterans each year. That’s why I support the intent of Julie-Ann Finney’s petition as it’s attracted much-needed attention and support for change in our community that’s been too long coming.

The royal commission’s findings can’t come soon enough, because by the time they hand down their findings in five to seven years, roughly 600+ veterans will have died by suicide, and another 6,500+ will have planned to, or tried to, die by their own hand.

If the royal commission must go ahead, then why doesn’t the government serve the entire nation – rather than the 2 per cent of us who’ve served the nation in uniform – and increase the scope to focus on our national suicide crisis? Likewise, why not include all first-responders and workers in industries that are exposed to trauma and stressful environments? Absolutely, we need to answer the one question the government seems to have been reluctant to ask: how many veterans die by suicide each year? But we also need to know why so many ‘regular’ civilian teenagers and adults die by their own hand every year in the lucky country.

Knowing these number puts everyone on notice.

In the veteran community, it’s my hope that the royal commission also clearly reveals that the government’s current model for supporting veterans needs a dramatic overhaul. It’s likely (if they dig deep enough) that they will discover that the government – however well-intentioned, and for all the good it’s doing for a good percentage of the veterans and their families that are engaging with it – is inadvertently playing a role in some of these deaths.

I don’t make this claim lightly.

In the US, data reveals that veterans engaging with Veterans Affairs for mental health reasons are twice as likely to die by suicide. Some of these men and women in the US literally died of frustration, dealing with an oftentimes protracted support process. Others tried and simply couldn’t get the support they needed. The ABC revealed in March that veteran crisis help calls went unanswered due to DVA being short on counsellors to meet the demand, so it’s not a huge leap to consider that some of our veterans died because our current system failed them.

The commission should equally dig as deep into the data for the national population. Knowing the answer to these ugly questions will provide essential data points that must define the foundation and scope of a royal commission’s impending actions. Because when we know how many men and women died by suicide, what contributing factors led to their untimely deaths, and what support they needed, wanted, sought, and found – or didn’t find – only then we can start looking to shape policies and programs to deploy at the right time and place to do the most good.

One potential quick win in the royal commission’s undertakings would be to engage the general population, sooner rather than later. Invite those families directly affected by suicide, attempted suicide, or suicidal ideation to participate in a vox populi process via a national hotline that empowers them to share rare insight that would reveal vital information that could well lead to shaping solutions, programs and policy that would save lives.

Allowing a wider audience to engage with this investigative process to contribute their grassroots insight into their loss could shape the royal commission’s national research agenda. Having said that, my final question is, do we really need a royal commission to accomplish the above?

From a financial standpoint, a royal commission is an expensive process. From a human standpoint, we don’t yet seem to be asking whether it’s the right thing to do to retraumatise these families who’ve been through so much already, even if they are the people asking for it?

There has to be a better way.

Speaking as a veteran, I’m a little ashamed we are viewing the suicide of a veteran as more important than the suicide of a civilian. We volunteered to serve this country, to defend and protect all that it holds most dear, most significant of which is its populace. If we must have a royal commission, then my suggestion is we hold one that focuses on the national interest. That’s what my brothers-in-arms fought and died for – some overseas, some here at home.

By all means, dig into why our Diggers are taking their lives, but please also take steps to protect the populace of the country we once volunteered to protect.

Chris Rhyss Edwards is the founder and CEO of Soldier.ly and a proud veteran who recently spoke with Defence Connect about the importance of supporting veterans, and the role technology can play in preventing veteran suicide.