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Three questions with: Linda Gask

by | Sep 7, 2023

Linda Gask is a co-founder of Storm Skills Training. She may have stepped down as a director in 2021, but her passion and enthusiasm for change remains as vibrant as ever!

We recently sat down with Linda to discover the remarkable journey she’s embarked on post-Storm Skills Training. Get ready to be inspired!

It’s amazing how quickly two and half years have passed since your retirement from the Storm Skills Training Board. We know this will have created the opportunity for some exciting endeavours for you. Can you tell us about your adventures during this time?

Even though I stepped down from the Board, I didn’t retire completely. I came back to clinical work for a year during COVID and helped to set up a bereavement support service in Greater Manchester with Six Degrees Social Enterprise.

I’ve lived part time in Orkney since 2013 but decided to stay here full time from the beginning of the pandemic. I supervised the bereavement service team from here for a year – then retired again! The service is still running in Greater Manchester.

I also joined a mental health charity, the Blide Trust, here on Orkney. I’ve been Chair for two years now. We have a house in the main street in Kirkwall, our largest town with a population of about 10,000 people. It provides a range of services including a drop-in centre which works well here.

It’s a lovely place with a big garden. It was given to us over 20 years ago by the family of Baroness Laura Grimond, wife of Orkney’s former MP Jo Grimond.

I haven’t completely moved away from Storm Skills Training though. I’ve continued to work with Bianca and the team on strategy, particularly around supporting the NHS. I’ve also been keeping up with some training.

I’m looking forward to being part of the rollout of Version 5 this summer, with a trip over the sea to Shetland to run training sessions there.

Orkney's beauty is undeniable, and the lifestyle it offers really sets it apart. Can you tell us what it’s like to live in such an enchanting place?

I first came here when I was 18. I’ve always enjoyed travelling and, in those days, you used to be able to get a Travel Pass, which allowed you to use all the buses, boats and trains in the Highlands of Scotland. So that’s when first fell in love with Orkney and the Western Isles.

It’s changed a lot since then. Orkney is one of the few islands in Scotland where the population is growing, it has good services and connectivity is really improving here. It’s a place where people can come and work remotely. You can get almost anything except dry cleaning – but to be honest, we don’t need it!

I did my medical training in Edinburgh, but Orkney really isn’t like the rest of Scotland. It’s a bit like a cross between Scotland and Scandinavia. Nobody here ever spoke Gaelic for example, they spoke Norn which is a Norse dialect. Also, we don’t have very many trees here! It can be very windy and the light is so special and unique.

It’s a big investment to pack up and come to a Scottish Island but I think it’s an absolutely brilliant place to live. I like the feeling of being a long way from the rest of the world. I wrote a book about my move here, called Finding True North released in 2021, about how being here affected by own long-standing depression. I do feel that my mental health has improved since being here.

It sounds like a really special place! Beyond Orkney's charm and serenity, we're really curious to know what you’ve learned from working with local organisations, and hear your insights into the challenges people on the islands face and how these can impact their mental health and wellbeing?

It is such a rural area, some of our islands might have less than a hundred people living there. Even though our centre is in a small town, it can be difficult to get there from the other islands. We have to do a lot of outreach work. The issues of living in a rural area are very different from working in a city.

The nearest psychiatric beds are in Aberdeen. That’s a 40-minute flight away in a small plane, so that isn’t easy. It’s quite hard to get people to come work here too, as it is in most rural areas.

Stigma is also a key issue in rural communities. Because this is a small place, if you’re seen walking through the doors of a centre, or having someone from mental health services visit, everybody soon knows.

We’ve got a big farming population and that brings particular problems. Farmers are not always good at talking about their mental health. We had a tractor run at Christmas – there were 179 tractors, I didn’t even know that there were so many tractors here! They were all lit up with Christmas lights and the organisers donated some of the money raised to the Blide.

A new Men’s Shed has opened up in a disused herring factory and some people from Blide are planning to build a new shed for our garden. So, we are reaching out and working with all the communities here.

As for me, I’m working on another book, this time about women’s mental health and feminism. That’s due to be published at the end of 2024 by Cambridge University Press. I’m really enjoying interviewing lots of women and experts for the book.

When I’m finished this book, I do intend to do other things outside work, but I’m not very good at resting!

Thanks for taking the time to catch up with us Linda, we’re really looking forward to the new book and working with you as we continue to roll-out Version 5 of Storm Skills Training. Enjoy Summer on the island! 

Linda's Story:

Meet Linda Gask: Co-founder

I studied medicine in Edinburgh, before moving to Manchester where I trained in psychiatry. I had both professional and personal interest in mental health, having experienced depression and anxiety myself. I was acutely aware of the need for effective communication to better understand and work with my patients.

Storm Skills Training started as a research project Manchester University funded by the Department of Health in the 1990s. Myself and Richard Morriss developed a training package that demonstrated how using viewing recorded roleplays could actually change people’s behaviour. We first tested our approach in Preston, then across a wider area in South Lancashire.

At that point, we named it Storm Skills Training and we were joined by Gill Green to roll out the delivery of training. Gill further developed Storm as a CIC and it’s wonderful to see how it has grown to where it is today under Bianca and her team.

My passion for many years has been on making mental health support more accessible in primary care. Until the Spring of 2023, I was Presidential lead for primary care at the Royal College of Psychiatrists and I continue to offer advice on the issue.

I moved to Orkney full time in 2020 at the start of the pandemic. I am Chair of a local mental health organisation called the Bilde Trust. As a rural community, we face our own challenges with mental health – it’s great to be involved in making a difference where I live.

Orkney is a wonderful place, unlike anywhere else in Scotland or the UK. I particularly enjoy writing here. After my first book, The Other Side of Silence, was published, I wrote my second (Finding True North) about how moving here positively impacted my own mental health.

My third book will be published at the end of 2024, exploring mental health and feminism. Maybe then I will take it easy, but that’s very hard for me to do!

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A not-for-profit social enterprise delivering high-quality skills training in self-harm and suicide prevention.

Keith's Story

Meet Keith Waters: Non-executive Director

Keith has over 25 years of clinical experience in Liaison psychiatry, self-harm and suicide prevention and was awarded an Honorary Research Fellowship by Derbyshire Healthcare Foundation Trust (DHCFT) in 2013.

For many years he was the lead for the Derby site of the Multicentre Study of self-harm in England, a study which he still maintains a very active role in. Until recently he was the Clinical director for self-harm and suicide prevention for the Trust and retains a post within the research team.

Keith is also a Storm Skills Training consultant with many years experience in facilitating, delivering, and supporting Storm Skills Training and has for a number of years held a seat on the National Suicide Prevention Alliance steering group.

He has been the Suicide Prevention manager for the East Midlands and Clinical Advisor for Suicide Prevention with the East Midlands Academic Health Science Network, developed a business and clinical case for Liaison Psychiatry Services in Derbyshire, and was the clinical advisor for its implementation.

Keith is an experienced trainer, facilitator, and presenter in Self Harm and Suicide prevention and management, locally and nationally in addition to the work with DHCFT and Storm Skills Training, has helped develop and delivered an initially lottery-funded suicide awareness training program across the East Midlands and organised chaired and delivered at numerous nation conferences and events. Keith has also been a joint author on numerous published research works, and chapters in clinical textbooks on self-harm and suicide prevention and has contributed to policy and practice guidance developments locally and nationally.

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Alf's Story

Meet Alf Hill: Non-executive Director

I first encountered Storm Skills Training CIC during my time as a volunteer Business Mentor at Unltd – a charity that supports social enterprises. Co-founder Gill Green was one my mentees in 2010 when Storm Skills Training was still within the University of Manchester and at the beginning of its journey to becoming an independent Community Interest Company.

At our first meeting I asked Gill, “How do you think I can help you?” Gill’s response was “Well… you could explain accounting to me.” We worked together for 18 months to develop Storm Skills Training as a social business. When Storm Skills Training CIC was finally incorporated in 2011, I was invited by Gill and Linda to be a non-executive Director and became Chair of the Board ten years later in 2021.

I’ve had a diverse career; initially as a civil servant, then in senior management and executive and non-executive roles in insurance and reinsurance in the UK and USA, in the corporate sector, and in Lloyd’s of London.

I returned to the public sector initially in adult education then at the Equal Opportunities Commission, later the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

A qualified accountant, I’ve been trustee of several charities, local and national, currently the Yapp Charitable Trust and the Centre for Investigative Journalism.

At Storm Skills Training, post-pandemic I feel that we are stronger than ever. I’m excited about the future with our new team with an ambitious plan.

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Gill's Story

Meet Gill Green: Co-founder

My career has taken me from nursing to academic research and finally to the development of Storm Skills Training CIC as a skills training company.

When I was nursing, so many of my patients often expressed that they felt so hopeless that they thought about ending their life. And like so many of my colleagues, I felt ill-equipped to know the right way to respond. It was a dilemma that I wanted to address through skills training – to give fellow healthcare professionals the confidence and practice they needed to have those difficult conversations.

In 1997, it was a chance job advertisement in a national paper for a Trainer and Researcher that introduced me to Storm Skills Training. At the time, I saw the 12-month project, working with Linda Gask at the University of Manchester, as an opportunity to learn new skills to take back to clinical practice. After the project, I stepped away for a few years, remaining in research but working with prisons on a different project. Research was definitely where I wanted to be.

I came back to the University of Manchester in 2003, when Linda and I started to develop the training package we now know as Storm Skills Training. It was important to us to translate the theory into usable, effective practice. I knew that as a healthcare practitioner, it wouldn’t be enough to sit in a room and be ‘taught’ suicide prevention. It is only through practice that we can actually ‘do’ suicide prevention.

I’m looking forward to supporting Bianca in realising her vision for where we go to next – and to exploring even more new directions for my own career. 

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Bianca's Story

Meet Bianca Romanyk: CEO

After 20 years in the mental health field, I am incredibly proud to be CEO of Storm Skills Training.

In my early career as a probationary psychologist working in community mental health, I can remember thinking that I’d like to one day have a role that could influence and impact the lives of many who were in distress. I recall meeting the CEO of the mental health service and being inspired by her and the compassion and empathy she showed those experiencing mental health issues.

Being in a small town in rural Australia I had the privilege of my role spanning across several areas of mental health, including working in an ongoing way with people with severe mental illness and crisis assessment (and being on call). I enjoyed all of it - I loved working with people, building trusting relationships, and working alongside them. I developed a special interest in working with younger adults with complex trauma and was lucky enough to train and be part of the Dialectical Behavioural Team for a short while. All of these experiences in my early career have driven my passion to make a difference for those in distress. I believe it is the quality of the connection that we make with people that makes a difference.

My career took me away from the frontline but rooted deeply in mental health and creating positive change. I found myself sat in a Storm Skills Training session as a trainee facilitator in 2013, Gill was delivering the course. I’d started in a brand-new role, working with schools in Australia to support their communities impacted by suicide. I recall vividly the anxiety of being on film in front of my new colleagues and the relief, value, and benefit the experience gave me. I left the training session feeling so empowered – I knew this course would help teachers and others working in schools to have conversations that made a difference to young people in significant distress. I wanted everyone to have Storm Skills Training!

Life presented itself with an opportunity to move to the UK. In 2014, before I left, Gill returned to Australia, we agreed to meet and talk about the opportunity to work together when I arrived. I arrived in the UK, with my two dogs, on the 7th of August 2015 and started work with Storm Skills Training on World Suicide Prevention Day the next month.

I haven’t looked back, my life here in the UK is lovely! When I’m not working, you’ll find me on my local common with my dogs, Derek and Doris, enjoying the view and nature. Or in my garden having a chat to the plants. I enjoy all things creative. More recently I have become a foster carer and am looking forward to this new life challenge and making a difference to the lives of young people.

I love the Storm Skills Training team, our consultants, and community and am always thinking about how to build and improve on the work we do, to have a positive impact on the world. I know that between us all we can make a real difference to people in distress. That’s what I am most excited about.

I believe passionately that Storm Skills Training helps to save lives. My vision for the future of Storm Skills Training, and our community, is to strive toward a more collaborative, empowering, and person-centred approach to self-harm and suicide prevention. A world where distress is met with compassion, everyone feels empowered to help and the support offered is tailored to the unique needs of people and their stories.

 

 

 

 

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Find support:

If you need help and support please reach out for it, here are some options:

Samaritans (UK)

Email: jo@samaritans.org

Phone: 116 123 (24 hours a day, 365 days a year)

Visit: samaritans.org

International Association for Suicide Prevention (International)

Visit: findahelpline.com/i/iasp