by LAUREN CODLING
MEMBERS of the public have been urged to take part in a charity run designed to raise funds for emergency service personnel whose mental health has been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis.
According to the Blue Light Symphony Orchestra (BLSO) charity, the mental wellbeing of some workers will have declined during the lockdown period. The charity, which uses music and music therapy to help emergency service staff with mental health problems, said workers may face issues such as trauma, chronic stress and anxiety.
To help raise funds for the BLSO, people have been encouraged to take part in the 999Run, to be held between next Monday (18) and next Friday (26). Participants will run, walk, or skip one of three 999-themed distances – 9.99 km, 999 m or 999 steps.
The funds will help enable the charity to continue helping workers deal with the pressures of their day-to-day work.
Sebastian Valentine is the creator of the BLSO and the organiser of the 999run. He is also a detective constable in the Surrey Police Safeguarding Investigation Unit based in Guildford.
Valentine told Eastern Eye he decided to organise the charity run after noting the impact the pandemic was having on emergency service personnel. He said he expected to see a spike in cases of staff struggling with mental health problems. “There is undoubtedly going to be a higher level of mental health problems as we come out the other side (of the pandemic),”
Valentine said. “In a crisis, you’re in fight and flight mode and dealing with what is in front of you, but it is afterwards when you’ve got time to reflect on what has happened that those mental health issues can creep in.
“What is really important is that people have access to help quickly and effectively so those issues can be dealt with, and they don’t escalate into longer-term problems.”
Many ‘blue light’ workers will have witnessed patients who are distressed or dying from Covid-19, which Valentine believed could potentially cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the future.
“There is also the added trauma of seeing people very unwell in hospital and not being able to see their loved ones,” Valentine said. “That is incredibly distressing for the families, but it is also incredibly distressing to witness.”
On why people should take part in the 999Run, Valentine said it was a “great way” to show support for the emergency services and the efforts they have made during the crisis.
“Our emergency services are working tirelessly to keep us safe, protected and healthy every day, but more so now during this coronavirus pandemic,” he said. “It is only right that we give back and help them regain some sort of normality and happiness in these difficult times.”
Valentine, a graduate of the Royal College of Music, previously worked as a freelance opera singer before he switched to a career in policing. He has also played the violin and piano since he was young.
The idea of the BLSO came to him during his time working in the Metropolitan Police. He was keen to find an initiative for musicians in the services, but only found the British Police Symphony Orchestra (BPSO), based in Birmingham.
“There wasn’t anything in the southeast,” Valentine, who joined the police in 2011, said. “I just wanted to start something to get together with other colleagues and make music.”
The group began as an organisation for the police, but Valentine decided he wanted to get other blue light services involved. “I didn’t want to be directly competing with the BPSO as what they do is
really good, but I wanted to do something slightly different,” he said.
As music therapy is not currently open to all emergency workers, the charity wants to raise funds to make the treatment more widely available. Research has shown that music can improve psychological health and well being.
Talking about the impact of music on mental health, Valentine said: “Coronavirus is taking its toll on all healthcare workers, creating traumatic memories that cause anxiety and stress.
“But treatments using music, such as music therapy, can be effective in helping individuals to self regulate through difficult emotional states and restore social relationships by fostering feelings of belonging.”
Visit www.999run.co.uk for more information on the charity run