Samaritans – more than just a last resort.

Before you read this article, I need you to conjure up an image. Say to yourself “Samaritans” and close your eyes for 5 seconds. What did you see? Quite possibly it was the image of someone in despair, possibly hanging onto the railings of a bridge, wanting to commit suicide and calling Samaritans as a last resort for help.

This image is far from the truth of what Samaritans is about as we will find out later.

The phrase “a good Samaritan” is part of our vocabulary and means someone who goes out on a limb to help others, even if they are complete strangers, possibly endangering themselves in the process

The origins of this meaning goes all the way back to biblical times. In one of the parables told by Jesus, a Jew was beaten, robbed and left to die by the roadside. Many people passed by but did not help. The only person to help was a man from Samaria. This act of kindness was particularly admirable because Jews and Samaritans were generally enemies.

So why do Samaritans have this “last resort” image?

Samaritans were aware of this, research for the charity found that while 90% of the public was aware of its existence, few people could accurately describe its service. Many respondents said the charity simply supported people when they were suicidal.

So, in 2002 Samaritans re-branded. The main aim was to make it clear that suicide reduction remains very central to their philosophy, but that people may not be actively suicidal to need hope and support. Samaritans is to do with coping and finding a way forward, whatever the issue. You will also notice that they dropped the “The” from their name. This article from the Guardian back in 2002 goes into more detail and is well worth a read.

As their website says, “We offer a safe place for you to talk any time you like, in your own way – about whatever’s getting to you. You don’t have to be suicidal.”

The key words there are “whatever’s getting to you”. The most common calls to Samaritans are:

  • relationship and family problems
  • loss, including loss of a friend or a family member through bereavement
  • financial worries
  • job-related stress
  • college or study-related stress
  • loneliness and isolation
  • depression
  • painful and/or disabling physical illness
  • heavy use of or dependency on alcohol or other drugs
  • thoughts of suicide

Samaritans are there to listen, they are there to help talk people through their concerns, worries and troubles. All Samaritans are volunteers who are trained to a high level. They won’t make decisions or give advice to people, rather support the decisions they make. Samaritans strongly believe people are the experts of their own life so their advice or opinions are not important.

As these personal stories tell, Samaritans service changes lives, for the better. If you ever feel in a situation where you need support, you could not go far wrong than calling Samaritans first, not last.

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Helping you get through the first term at University

Here at Vigiles Group we are passionate about many things. Closest to our hearts and the reason for starting this business was my daughters experience at University. Fire safety and student well-being can take a back seat in academic life.

Vigiles want to raise awareness to ensure students are kept informed about these two issues through our blogs.

As we move into the start of September, students will be heading off to University. Be it as a fresher or starting another academic year. We have written in depth blogs recently about each subject (which you can find here) but would like to share with you some condensed thoughts and handy tips to help you through the start/return to University. Keep this blog to hand for future reference.

Electrical and fire safety

More than 70% of student accommodation is privately owned which means that proper fire safety regulations may not always be in place. 15,432 fires were caused by electricity (out of a total of 28,350 fires) in 2015/16, see here for more details. What can you do to ensure your safety? Follow these simple steps:

  • Do not overloaded any sockets or extension leads as this can lead to a fire.
  • Always use genuine chargers and not cheaper, fake ones as they may not confirm to fire safety regulations.
  • Check all appliances are registered with the manufacturer to ensure any product recalls are notified to you.
  • Regular tripping of the electrics, flickering lights and scorching around sockets can be a sign of out dated wiring in the house.
  • Check all appliances do not show signs of damage or age. Look out for cuts or abrasions to cables, loose parts, screws and signs of overheating or burning.
  • Ensure the property is fitted with a working smoke alarm. Test the alarm every fortnight.
  • Never cook when drunk as your normal safety conscious mind tends to go out the window. Falling asleep in the lounge whilst the pizza is cooking in the oven is a recipe for disaster.

Your landlord is legally obliged to ensure that your electrical installations are kept in repair and proper working order. If you have reported an issue to your landlord and he or she has refused to put the situation right or ignored your request, you should contact your local authority who will be able to help you. If your accommodation is on campus then all matters should be reported to the University.

Sound of mind and body

Plenty of students starting or returning to University can fall back into a student way of living. Be that take-aways, cheap cooking options, zoned out on the PS4 or a few pints at the pub every night. Whilst this is fine in moderation your body needs to be in tip top condition to deal with studying and exams.

By staying mentally and physically well you will be able to face the daily challenges head on. Following these simple ideas will help you in the long run:

  • Sleep – Try to not drink any caffeine based drinks, watch TV or play computer games an hour before going to bed as your brain does not switch off, meaning a restless night. A good night’s sleep refreshes you physically and mentally.
  • Alcohol – A stimulant and a depressant, too much can lead to lack of sleep, anxiety, hangovers and in some cases addiction. Control the amount by taking regular glasses of water when at the pub. Pretend it is Gin, your mates will never know.
  • Diet – Nuts, seeds, eggs, avocado, oily fish are considered “brain food”. Vegetables and fruit are antioxidants, helping your mind.
  • Exercise – Even if it means walking to University instead of getting the bus, it is better than nothing.

Fitting in and loneliness

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Moving to another city where everything is different will immediately put you out of your comfort zone. Add onto that the pressure of meeting new people and having to live with a bunch of people your own age, all with different views and opinions. You must fend for yourself with regards to money, shopping, cooking, socialising and so on. Then throw into the mix the coursework and exam pressure.

Did you know a startling 70% of students feel lonely and isolated at University? If you feel you fit among that statistic how many of your peers also feel the same but have not mentioned it? Meeting new people can be daunting. Humans by nature roam in packs, having to find a new pack can be difficult.

If you find yourself struggling to integrate then talking is key in expressing your feelings. By keeping quiet and bottling things up other students may not know you are struggling to deal with University life.

There are many pillars of support out there, the number one being your parents. They do not want to see you struggle. Technology today means they are there on hand 24/7. Call, text or better still Skype them. Seeing a loved ones face automatically makes us feel better.

Then there are your current non-University friends, they are your friends for a reason. They will listen and maybe come to visit you in University for a weekend. That way you can introduce them to other students in your accommodation, a great way of getting yourself integrated.

All Universities recognise that students can and will struggle. Every University has a student support group. Your Student Union will point you in the right direction.

The Samaritans also offer a safe place for you to talk, any time you like, in your own way, about whatever’s getting to you. The “traditional” image of The Samaritans being a “last resort” couldn’t be further from the truth, have a look at their website www.samaritans.org to find out more.

Finally, there is the GP. Anxiety, depression, body image, bullying to name a few are real issues that are taken seriously today so do not be afraid to seek help from a medical professional. There is support out there and this is a great article to keep to hand.

Keep yourself safety aware, fit in mind and body, talk to people around you and your time at University will be a blast.

Students and cooking, keep fire safety in mind.

With the summer holidays for students now well under way, chances are returning home will be a god send for some. There is not much need to fend for yourself as most of your household chores will be done by your parents.

Come September it will be business as usual in your student accommodation and halls of residence. One of the biggest challenges many face will be cooking. Not everyone likes it or is good at it, but you cannot live on take-away for the rest of your student life.

Having some basic cooking skills under your belt will stand you in good stead and maybe make you the envy of your fellow students as you present some delicious dish to them.

With basic cooking skills comes the awareness of safety around the kitchen. According to this article in London alone in 2015, the fire brigade were called to a cooking related fire 10 times per week.

 

There is still a worrying trend to cover smoke alarms when cooking, as one minute the bacon is doing fine, the next it is blackened with smoke pouring out of the grill. False alarms have been proven to be a major concern for students, so the temptation to cover the smoke alarm should never be done. Ideally your residence should have a heat detector in the kitchen and smoke alarms throughout the rest of the building. If this is not the case, open a window whilst cooking and keep an eye on your cooking.

One major thing to not do is cook late at night after a few drinks in the pub. As we all know alcohol makes you take more risks, so cooking a pizza at 1am is not a great idea. There is the temptation to wait for the pizza to cook and slope off to watch the TV. Being intoxicated makes you drowsy so means you could fall asleep, before you know it you have woken up all your friends with the smoke alarm going off. Plus, the Fire Brigade at your door will not be pleased.

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Microwaves are a brilliant way to heat your food quickly. They offer convenience and are time saving. However, do you know what shouldn’t go into the microwave?

  • Paper bags can release toxins that can potentially catch fire.
  • Take-away containers are mostly made of metal, they can easily catch fire in the microwave.
  • Plastic containers like yogurt cups and butter containers are meant for one-time use. They aren’t made to withstand the high temperatures and heat of a microwave, and if heated they can melt and potentially release chemicals into the food.
  • If you want to make hard-boiled eggs, boil them in a pot on the stove. Putting eggs in the microwave will just leave you will a rather large mess to clear up.
  • Styrofoam cups, bowls, take-out containers — whatever the type, don’t put it in the microwave. Styrofoam is a type of plastic, which doesn’t mix well with microwave temperatures.
  • You may have plates or bowls with a metal trim, even the smallest amount of metal can catch fire in a microwave.
  • Certain Tupperware-type plastic containers will have a label if they are microwave safe. If you don’t see that label, don’t put it in.
  • Some travel mugs are made of stainless steel which will block the heat from warming whatever’s in your mug along with damaging the microwave.
  • Frozen meat should always be left overnight to defrost in the fridge. Tempting as it is to use the microwave, it’s difficult to be sure the inside of the meat is fully cooked. Plus, if the heat isn’t evenly distributed, bacteria can grow and spread on the food.
  • Aluminium foil, its metal. End of. Keep it out of the microwave.

Stay safe in the kitchen and enjoy all those new recipes your Granny gave you to cook.

Drinking at Uni, have fun but stay aware

We have all done it. Drank too much and had the hideous hangover the next day!

With student’s the drinking culture goes hand in hand with university life.

Do you remember the first time you drank? It would have taken one, maybe two pints to feel drunk. As you drink more, your body becomes used to the amount of alcohol it takes to get you drunk, therefore you end up drinking more and more to get to that “buzz”.

As a student, you are going through huge personal changes in your life. A new city where everything is different will immediately put you out of your comfort zone. Add onto that the pressure of meeting new people, having to fend for yourself with regards to money, shopping, cooking, socialising along with coursework and exam pressure.

With all that pressure, the temptation of alcohol can be quite high as it makes you feel relaxed and more sociable.

In moderation having a drink is fine, it is when binge drinking and having a sneaky one becomes a problem. Alcohol is a poison and can sometimes have lethal consequences. Your body can only process one unit of alcohol an hour. Drink a lot in a short space of time and the amount of alcohol in the blood can stop the body from working properly. So, having a pint then knocking back a short is not a great idea.

Want to know a great tip? It is to have a drink then a water afterwards. Tell your friends it is a vodka and they will never know!

Did you know that the side effects of excessive drinking apart from a hangover can include:

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Disrupted sleep cycles
  • Anxiety
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Stress

As you can see, this is hardly the ideal mix when you have studying and exams to deal with.

Alcohol also has a very dark side. Accidents, addiction and disease can lead to social, financial and personal problems. Diabetes, 7 forms of cancer and liver disease are all linked to excessive drinking. The Drinkaware website has lots of useful information and advice.

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As we head deep into summer there is also the issue of alcohol and water. They do not mix. Having a drink by a river on a hot day? Don’t be tempted to cool off in the water. Your risk taking is lowered when you have been drinking.

When you jump into the water it is not the same as the local pool, there are currents and distances to deal with. You may misjudge the distance from one side of the river to the other as you have been drinking, this is greatly increased if you are in the sea.

The temperature of the water in the UK will likely be around or lower than 15 degrees which means initially you will be subjected to cold water shock. As alcohol drops your body temperature anyway this is a potent mix. Gasping for air is a reflex action meaning you will take on water. The skin temperate also drops so the heart must work harder to pump the blood around your body.

People do not drown in a typical hand waving manically in the air scenario. Your body will automatically go into survival mode meaning your arms will want to help you tread water, you will most likely be unable to shout for help as you are using your lungs primarily to breath. Your muscles will lose heat quickly and get tired meaning you will not be able to swim back to shore.

Is there anything you can do if you are in that situation?

The RNLI’s advice is to float for around 60 to 90 seconds – the time it takes for the effects of the cold shock to pass and for you to regain control of your breathing. The recommended floating position is to lean back in the water and keep your airway clear while keeping calm to maintain breathing levels. You should then be in a better position to attempt to swim to safety or try to call for help.

Loneliness Awareness Week

This week is Loneliness Awareness Week. Mental Health issues are a topic which are close to our hearts at Vigiles. Loneliness is not just something that effects the elderly. Feeling lonely is natural at times, we have all experienced it. It is when this loneliness becomes an issue effecting your day to day life that it becomes a problem.

Teenagers moving out to University for this first time are vulnerable with a startling 70% feeling lonely and isolated at university. A dramatic change in personal circumstances by moving to a new city, living with others your same age, along with exam pressure can test the strongest of wills. Vigiles recently compiled a blog about dealing with fresher loneliness which can be read here

30 somethings have very busy working lives and many do not have time to socialise. There is an increasing number of single 30’s who are living on their own. Society has changed dramatically and amongst their peers being single and independent is not a problem. The pressure comes from parents who feel at that age, their siblings should be married and settled down in suburbia with the 2 kids and Volvo on the drive. This related article is an interesting read.

Men are not great at talking about health issues, be it physical or mental. There is evidence from a recent article that suggests that three million men in Briton feel lonely on a daily basis.

Feeling lonely can lead to a variety of health issues, such as:

  • Depression
  • Alcohol and drug taking
  • Suicide
  • Increased stress levels
  • Decreased memory capacity
  • Anti-social behaviour

Amongst the elderly loneliness is a big issue. Contact with family, friends and neighbours can decrease. Over half of over 75’s live alone. Two fifths say the television is their main company. As loneliness can have an effect on your health, being elderly increases the health risks.

 

To highlight these issues, Vigiles have teamed up with The Marmalade Trust. Marmalade Trust was founded by Amy Perrin (a qualified Occupational Therapist) in 2013.

Having worked as a health professional and volunteered for over 20 years, she was aware of how tough social isolation and loneliness can be.

In 2013, 3 of the older people she volunteered with, told Amy they were going to be spending Christmas day alone.  She attempted to find them somewhere to go, and became aware of the great shortage of Christmas day events running in Bristol, so decided to take them out herself. Word spread and the rest is history.

On Tuesday 13th June – there will be an exclusive screening premiere of ‘Lorna’. Lorna is a look through the window of social isolation, and how changes within our society and technology are increasingly fuelling it. It is a film that delivers a resonating message about loneliness and brings the issue into the light. Lorna, written and directed by filmmaker Lee Skelly, is based on a true story and Lee will be there on the night to take part in a Q&A session.

You can book tickets from https://marmaladetrust.org/tickets. Vigiles will be there and it would be great to see as many people as possible attend and support this event.

Loneliness, social isolation and mental health will not go away. By being part of Loneliness Awareness Week, Vigiles and Marmalade Trust want to highlight and educate everyone about these current social issues.

How to deal with the pressure of exam season

It happens every year without fail. It has done so for years. So long in fact, that you wonder if there was a time when it did not exist. I am not talking about the return of X-Factor but exams.

The actual word can send shivers down your spine and bring you out in a cold sweat. There are going to be times when you cannot sleep. There will be times when you have a mental block.

The mind is a wonderful and complex thing. Your brain is the star performer in your body. It controls everything you do. When exams come around the brain is working with one major element. Memory. When you learn something new, the hippocampus are of your brain is activated. Naturally, the more you learn, the more information is stored in your brain. Revision is the trigger that should get the hippocampus to retrieve that information.

Ever forgotten something you learnt about a day ago? That is because too much information is being stored and the brain is over worked. So how can you overcome this?

Making the most of revision time

Revision is obviously key to a student’s exam success. Here are some tips on how to deal with all that revision.

  • Take regular breaks – pretty obvious but walking away from revision when you feel “bogged down” and then returning later means the brain has time to refresh. I have walked away from this article a few times with writers block.
  • Avoid distractions – Lots of people like to have background music on. However, even if this at a low volume the brain is being distracted by the music. How many times are you typing something on the laptop and type a lyric or part of a conversation you are having with someone?
  • Sleep – Possibly the best thing to do. When you sleep, your brain is still working, it is storing all those newly learnt things into long term memories. It is rather like your laptop or PC having an automatic update. Sleep also refreshes you physically.
  • Emotions – Certain emotions take up more of the brains functions, anxiety and stress work the brain harder due to the areas of the brain these emotions come from. Having a clear head and a “happy place” to revise will help enormously. Your happy place could be anywhere, have a look at this article for some inspiration.
  • Exercise – not everyone’s cup of tea but if you tie this in with having a regular break, a 40-minute walk around the local park will take your mind off the revision and give the brain something else to take in rather than complex physics theory.
  • Eat and drink – Your mind and body benefit from food, having a healthy breakfast and then not eating until midnight is not going to help. Beer and wine will not help. I consider being of healthy mind and body critical for any person. How dreadful is a hangover or over indulgence in food? You feel terrible physically and mentally. So, with that in mind I want to concentrate on how you can stay in top top condition for anything those exams will throw at you.

Sound of mind and body

Students forget that our brains are mainly made of water. Not coffee, Not beer. Not energy drinks. Straight up water is the key component of brains – vital for energy, concentration, creativity, memory and logic. So always aim to drink a glass of water first thing in the morning, and then another before lunch and you’ll be nicely hydrated. Any time you feel the need to grab an energy drink, have a glass of water first, and then see how you feel.

Our brains also need fats. Good fats. Like the ones in nuts, seeds, eggs, avocado, oily fish. Those kinds of fats give your brain the tools it needs to really do the work. They also help keep your mental health in tip top shape.

Students need antioxidants to help their bodies deal with stress of student life. So, whenever possible, add some green leaves to a sarnie, or a piece of fruit for pudding, or some extra fresh veggies alongside your evening meal to keep you topped up.

If eating well is just way beyond your lifestyle, just aim for a good breakfast. Most breakfasts are a blood sugar overdose, which sets you up for a rollercoaster day. Add fats and protein to breakfast – such as a handful of nuts on your cereal, or homous or nut butter on your toast, or even go for a cooked breakfast, and you’ll at least get the day off to a great start. Yes. A cooked breakfast. Done correctly without the grease and fat a cooked breakfast is very healthy. This is my favourite cooked breakfast:

Giant mushroom on a bed of spinach. Layer the mushroom with bacon (minus the fat) and tomatoes. Add a fried egg (cooked with a healthy oil). This will keep you going until lunchtime without the temptation of picking at those unhealthy snacks.

A huge thank you to Claire Stone from Claire Stone Nutrition for her valuable input and healthy eating and drinking suggestions. Visit www.claire-stone.com for more valuable insights.

Exams are a pressure cooker for students but if you follow the above tips and keep the mind mentally healthy you cannot go far wrong. Good luck with those exams, you will smash them.

How to deal with “fresher” loneliness at University

Moving out of home for the first time can be terribly daunting. Back when I moved out I had to call home to find out how to boil an egg. I was that green around the gills. These days there is YouTube to help show you the answer to that question. And there lies a possible problem.

The world we live in today is so “immediate”. If you want something or need to find an answer how many times have you heard someone say, “Google it”. The chances are we all have access to a smartphone or laptop. We are so engrossed in the online world we can detach ourselves from the real one. I am not saying technology is a bad thing either, in so many ways it has helped our lives enormously and will continue to do so. It is just at times the outside world to a teenager is a far-off reality.

What can happen is that when you move out you forget about how much those “two annoying people downstairs” helped you grow up and become the amazing person you are today. Once out in the big bad world you do realise how much you need your parents so they will come back into the fold. You will have a different and positive view of them, even if you did get on with them before moving out, that positivity will increase.

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Moving out can be lonely. Especially for students. Moving to another city where everything is different will immediately put you out of your comfort zone. Add onto that the pressure of meeting new people and having to live with a bunch of people your own age, all with different views and opinions. You must fend for yourself with regards to money, shopping, cooking, socialising and so on. Then throw into the mix the coursework and exam pressure. You must grow up pretty quickly.

Some people thrive at University, others find it a challenge. The assumption is that everyone at University will succeed, get good results and a good job. But what if this doesn’t work out? What if you cannot afford to live on a weekly basis? How do you juggle studying and a part time job? What if you do not fit in? What if you already have health and mental health issues? Where do you turn?

You have in effect wiped the slate clean when you head to University, it is a brand new start and can be a daunting challenge as this article explains. I do not want to fill this article with the doom and gloom statistics of people dropping out, anxiety issues, mental health issues, depression, drink and drug related incidents.

I want to concentrate on the positives and where to turn to.

 

If we go straight back to the start of this article there is that number one pillar of support. Your parents. They do not want to see you struggle or fail. Communication is key to everything. Your parents should understand you more than anyone else. Even if they didn’t “seem to care” when you lived at home. That is just a teenager’s thoughts. Believe me, parents care about their siblings more than anything in the world

I did say technology is not a bad thing also. One word here. Skype. You can call and text but nothing beats seeing a loved one, be it in the flesh or on a laptop screen.

On the other hand, what if your relationship with your parents is not very good? There are your current friends to fall back on, most people have one friend who they are so close to they could be a brother or sister. There are also those new faces and new friends. They will also be adjusting to this new life. Just because they do not openly say anything about how they may be struggling, asking a few simple questions can open people up.

And if all this is not working, where do you go then?

Universities recognise that students will go through various feelings when at university. They will have student support advisors, mental health advisors. Even if they do not offer a service you feel relates to you the Student Union will have advisors. Your GP will also be able to help, do not feel like you are wasting their time. Anxiety, depression, body image, bullying to name a few are real issues that are taken seriously today. There is support out there and this is a great article to keep to hand.

The journey of University life is exciting, embrace it fully, enjoy every second. Before you know it, you will be out there in full time employment. Maybe a parent one day. This brings a new set of challenges and experiences. But that is a story for another day!