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Do you want to help save a life?

The team at Tango Kilo Mike do, but they can't do it on their own.


The reason I got into intelligence is because I like problem-solving. I always have. As a kid, I would spend my pocket money on puzzle books. As I got older I got into computer games, but it was the RPGs that got me hooked, not the action games. Fast forward twenty years, and the only thing that's changed is that I now prefer to work with others to solve bigger problems. This week I spoke with the ambitious Chris Collins, who has a big problem he needs help solving. Chris is the founder of the charity Tango Kilo Mike, a charitable trust that aims to provide suicide prevention and peer support to serving or ex-serving member of the military or the emergency services. His problem has two parts.

  • He wants to spread the word about the charity, both to those in need of its services, as well as to those who can provide support.

  • He wants help build a centralised mental health triage service that provides those in need with guidance and referrals to an appropriate specialist, before they are at crisis point.

Like I said, Chris is ambitious.

How it started

I was intrigued, and started asking him questions about what the charity has done to date and what kind of support it provides. (For the intelligence analysts among you I used the Circleboarding technique to provide structure to the interview. It's a tool that is typically used to provide a visual depiction of known information about differing aspects of a topic of concern or interest.)

Back to the interview. Chris explained that the motivation for the charity came from his own experience of losing several military friends to suicide over the years. He found it frustrating that these men had survived gruelling challenges on battlefields overseas, only to come back and find themselves weighed under by the pressure of their everyday lives. He went on to say that this isn't a problem limited to soldiers who have experienced operational deployments. Emergency responders are also often involved in traumatic events, and often struggle with the same issues. "We're talking about people who spend their lives protecting others. They don't stop protecting others when they get home. They keep things in, they don't share their fears or concerns with their loved ones. A husband protects his wife from worrying about a bad financial situation by trying to deal with it himself. A mother doesn't tell her kids that she's had a hard day; those feelings get pushed inside and hidden. A son doesn't tell his parents that he hates his job since he left the military, that there is no purpose in his life. But do this long enough and it will erode anyone's resilience. It will cause a person to change. The friends and the families notice. They know something is wrong. They just don't know what to do about it." It is for this reason that Tango Kilo Mike encourages anyone who is worried about a friend or family member to call their support line for non-urgent cases, or their crisis line if they think an individual needs immediate support. (Remember, if there is immediate risk to life call 111 in the first instance.)

Tailored Support for Individual Needs

What happens when you call the number? You'll have a conversation with someone who can help start the process of change. When someone is struggling with their mental resilience, it can be hard to identify pathways to feeling better. Tango Kilo Mike base their support package on Te Whare Tapa Whā, a holistic health model developed by the leading Māori health advocate Sir Mason Durie. The model doesn't focus on fixing individual problems, but rather helps people understand how to live a healthy and well-balanced life that makes them naturally more resilient.

For Chris and his team, the approach makes sense. When individuals come to them for support, the problems are often complex and interrelated. I expected the conversation to lead at some point to discussion about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or drug abuse, or some other major issue. It never did. Chris focussed more on telling me about the times when the charity had stepped in to stop issues getting out of hand. One such story was that of a soldier who wasn't in desperate need, but who thought he might be headingdown the path towards it. Chris didn't tell me his name, so let's just call him 'Jack'.

Case Study

Jack got in touch with Tango Kilo Mike because he knew he needed help. Upon leaving the military he didn't know what to do with himself. "What role is there in the civilian world for a man whose career had been spent on a battlefield in Afghanistan?" he said. With this mindset, Jack had struggled to transition to a second career, and so he found himself considering stacking shelves or being a lorry driver to pay the bills. He was bored and frustrated, and knew he was falling into depression. Tango Kilo Mike started the intervention by helping Jack rebuild his confidence. Through a process of martial arts-based exercise, career support, and mentorship, they helped him start to look for more suitable opportunities. Jack completed an upskilling programme that allowed him to apply and be accepted for a technical role at a global tech firm. Chris understood that being more fulfilled at work and having new career goals to strive for was what Jack needed, and so that was the support that was provided.

What other support is available?

If that had been me picking up the phone, I wouldn't have expected career support. I'd have probably expected to hear advice about meditation, and eating healthily, and therapy, because that has been the experience of a few of my friends, as well as myself. I was diagnosed with depression at the end of 2018, and it was a bit of an 'ambulance at the bottom of the cliff' moment for me. I was serving with the Royal New Zealand Navy at the time and was steered by the service GP through an excellent recovery package that involved lots of therapy, and lots of advice about looking after myself better. This certainly helped, and Tango Kilo Mike does provide those services, but what makes them stand out as an organisation is that they want to prevent people getting to that stage in the first place.

To do this, the team use Te Whare Tapa Whā to identify where an individual might be weak or unbalanced. For example, one of the dimensions is physical health, and so the charity has established links with affiliated martial arts and jujitsu clubs to help people build physical resilience. As Chris told me:

"In combat sport training you develop a level of physical trust with those you train with. Even though everyone is working towards different goals, that shared experience creates a bond that is hard to replicate elsewhere. It can be really difficult to open up to people, but when you trust someone to get you on the floor, to get you into a vulnerable position but to stop when you tap out, then you can usually trust that person to be careful with the emotional stuff too."

Wait, I thought this was an intelligence blog?

As you can tell, the charity has already developed a robust and all-encompassing support package. So why is Chris talking to me, an educator who focuses on intelligence training? He wanted to know if I had knowledge of any techniques that would allow him and the team to move forward toward their goals. Let's have a look again at Chris' two goals:

  • Spreading the word about the charity, both to those in need of its services, as well as to those who can provide support.

  • Build a centralised mental health triage service that provides those in need with guidance and referrals to an appropriate specialist, before they are at crisis point.

Goal 1: Spread the word

For the first goal, my initial instinct is that an in-depth marketing strategy would be the solution more than any individual technique. As part of developing such a strategy however, a network analysis could be useful. This is the technique you will have seen in a multitude of movies or tv shows, where the detective or police investigator has a wall covered in photos and notes, with everything tied together with string. That's not how it's typically done in real life, but the concept is correct. It's a technique that illustrates associations between individuals, groups, businesses or organisations.

An example of a network analysis taken from the tv show Line of Duty.

The next step of a network analysis is to decide what to do with the information. In a criminal case, the police will use it to identify potential suspects and witnesses. In this case, the team could use it to identify ways to tap into influential business and people who might be interested in supporting the charity, or who can spread the word to those who would use its services. Having the information mapped out in a diagram makes it easier to understand the potential avenues of approach to future connections.

Goal 2: Build a better system

The second goal is huge, but having a goal in mind allows a technique called backcasting to be used. A backcast starts with a desirable future. The analysts then work backwards to identify all the steps and actions and policies that are necessary to connect that future with the present day. To do this correctly though, you need the right people on the team, people who have the knowledge, resources and authority to enact the necessary policies and actions to achieve the goal. The backcast shown below has no level of knowledge or accuracy behind it but could be used as a starting point for a discussion about Chris' second goal.

What was that first question again?

At the beginning of this post I asked if you wanted to help save a life. If nothing else, sharing this post might get it to someone who needs support, who reaches out to Tango Kilo Mike. Sharing this post might get it seen by someone who knows a loved one has a problem, but doesn't know how to help. You might not ever hear about the role you played, but by sharing this post an intervention might be enabled for someone who is majorly depressed or suicidal. However you don't have to start there. If you want to get more involved then reach out to Chris and the team to find out how you can help. It could be handing out flyers at an emergency services exposition, or it could be providing support through your gym or martial arts club. Maybe you're a politician, or a health official, who can help with his goal of providing better support for everyone? Maybe you're friends with someone who can help? At the end of the day, get in touch, check out the website, or connect with them on social media. Every bit of support makes a difference.


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