Man to Men Speaking Out

1_20220531-075356_1 Photo by Papaioannou Kostas on Unsplash

If men want to get together and socialise, they can do. 

It can be at work or in a shared sports or leisure activities. They informally happen, no explicit, agreed social rules: anything goes. 

They tend to happen for fun, a crack, a laugh and to discuss shared interests. 

They are also used to gossip about others who do not know they are being talked about. 

Opening up about your Mental Health can be risky and others are likely to feel embarrassed. 

There is no guarantee that what you privately share about yourself in the group will not be shared with anyone else outside of the group.

                                                                                                                         Photo by Nathan Wright on Unsplash

If you were hit with a Mental Health breakdown in the 1970s to 80's, you were likely to be admitted to Garlands Hospital, Cumbria and invited to participate in therapy groups. 

This type of group gathering does not follow the natural human group process. 

Trained therapists managed the group procedure as part of Mental Health clinical recovery. Some were more destructive than therapeutic. Think of Nurse Ratched in One who flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. 

In the 1980's to 90's often, men were discharged from a psychiatric ward but still attended the local NHS Mental Health Day Hospital. Mental Health practitioners facilitated various types of groups: small and large group work or specialist groups using psychodynamic therapy principles.

Alongside these NHS groups, Mental Health charities emerged in the community such as the Richmond Fellowship.

Richmond Fellowship is a leading national mental health charity and one of the largest voluntary sector providers of mental health support in England. Established in 1959, Richmond Fellowship serves over 9000 people in England every year.

In the 1960's and 70s, they ran many residential Therapeutic Communities of which combined formal and natural group work. This was the focus of daily living throughout the day. They were places where the structure of the day and different activities together are all deliberately designed to help recover from severe poor Mental Health using Therapeutic Community group work.

From 1980's through to 2014, Mental Health Day Centres were funded by the UK government either run by the Local Authority or a local Mental Health charity. These were places where men, struggling with severe and enduring poor mental health who had been discharged from NHS inpatient care could regularly go during weekdays.

Only people diagnosed with a Mental Health condition attended. Here, the atmosphere was relaxed and informal. People could make friends, chat and drink tea or eat together. Groups formed more on a natural group process. No rules. It was open to both men and women. Day centres, were the origin of men's Mental Health groups.. Men sat in chair circles, facilitated by day centre staff and talked about things men liked to talk about.

                                                                                                         Photo by Federica Campanaro on Unsplash

In 2014, such Day Centres disappeared, because it felt unnatural. It was a form of segregation, separating the "mentally ill" from those who were not. It was the beginning of Mental Health social inclusion policy. 

Mental Health Bridge Building services grew where Mental Health service users were supported to access public sports, leisure, faith and volunteering places. Men joined natural groups where people Mental Health was good. Out went "men only" groups.

So where do men today, meet together to share their Mental Health and have the opportunity to support each other ?

                                                                                                                  Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash

In July 2019, a group of like minded locals looked at ways to try and improve men's Mental Health in their community. 

Mind ya Marras support group was opened in Whitehaven to get men talking. 

The founders of Mind ya Marras knew that male suicide was above the national average in West Cumbria so therefore wanted to make a change. They created a place to socialise, share stories and experiences and help one another through difficult times. The main aims of the group are to reduce the stigma and statistics surrounding mental health.

All men over 18, in the area are welcome,. Anyone struggling with day to day issues are welcome to attend. The volunteers who run the sessions take the time to be there for others as a listening ear. They are supportive, non-judgemental and open to help any man that may be suffering.

I recently spoke to Daniel Davey. He shared his story on the 'Mind Ya Marras' men's group. Here it is:

Mind Ya Marras started about three years ago, because it was recognised that there were no informal support groups for men locally in Mirehouse, Copeland, West Cumbria who were or had experienced poor Mental Health, as well as just needing general support for what life can throw at you.

The aim was to get men to be in a safe space with other men, a group where they could open up. The conversation needed to be unprocessed and raw. That meant it was OK to speak openly about any issues, whether that be Mental Health, bereavement, relationships etc.

Volunteers were present who would help "push" the conversation along. The role was to be informal, not a formal facilitation role. It was to give everyone the opportunity to speak, there was no special way. There was no training by an expert.

The community café on the Mirehouse estate agreed to let 'Mind Ya Marras' have use of their café, when it was closed. The group began meeting every week on Monday for two hours between 7pm and 9pm. It was agreed that anyone over the age of 18, can come along. It did not matter if you were 20 or 60. 

                                                                                                                 Photo by Renáta-Adrienn on Unsplash

The meeting was not planned, no agenda to follow, so conversations were organic. Someone says something, a conversation followed, that moved to another topic, A to B to C and so on. The conversation was open and natural.

People came along through word of mouth, no formal funding was applied, they did not register as a Charity. Men could come and go as they please. As time went by, a pattern emerged. Some stayed for a month or two, getting what they needed from the group, then left, others became regular attendees. A few do meet socially such as watching movies together. Some nights there could be 3 or 4 other nights 10 or more.

Men found that being in these meeting benefited them, they felt listened to; There was no pressure to talk, you can say nothing and that was OK.

Those that attended regularly just became known as volunteers. They opened the door, prepared the room and may start the conversation. Others may latch on to what was being shared and then talk. It was often a surprise, as they had never intended to say something. No advice was given. Other men. when listening to a story or experience of struggling with anxiety or depression, would support by sharing their own experience of their Mental Health.It was not just depression and anxiety, it could be other Mental Health conditions or being on the Autistic Spectrum.

The group gave safe space to share their personal Mental Health struggle either in the past or it was happening right now. 

If you want to make contact: here is their facebook page.

The reputation of the group spread. Friends suggested going might help, GPs formally refer to the group, as well as the police explaining this might help in addition to medication and counselling.

When someone does tell their personal story, then others follow and share as well. The volunteers are not trained in any way, they do not lead the group, they do not see themselves as experts.

The group have now moved to the Whitehaven Rugby League Club.

The session still takes place on a Monday from 7pm-9pm. They have a room there. When the group starts, they close the door and it is private, just like being in the café.

The group does on occasions get private donations. As they are not a Charity, the money is deposited with the Mirehouse community centre which is a registered charity. They can draw on the money, which they use for refreshments such as tea and coffee. The men do use the money to give to chosen good causes such as sponsoring a charity marathon.

The News and Star published an article on the 27th January. Reporter Paul McTaggart's article announced that Cumbria's first Andy's Man Club will be coming to Carlisle and Workington. 

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 with one man succumbing to the illness every two hours, Andy's Man Club looks to challenge this. 

The men's Mental Health charity offers a free-to-attend talking space for groups of men to clear their chest, with hopes of reducing the stigma attached around male mental health. Whilst there are 67 of the groups nationwide, there is yet to be one in Cumbria, until now.

ANDYSMANCLUB is a Men's Mental Health Charity, offering free-to-attend talking groups for men and challenging the stigma around Male Mental Health. They started off as one group in the small, northern town of Halifax. That first night 9 men turned up and spoke. They knew other guys across the country needed this same experience. They have worked tirelessly through Andy's memory to grow our clubs. They now have 69, and we continue to grow across the UK.

Andy Roberts was loving and doting father, son, brother, grandson, nephew, cousin and friend. Sadly and tragically without any warning Andrew, at 23 years old, was taken away from all his family and friends by suicide. 

It's often said a factor is that men don't talk. At ANDYSMANCLUB you don't have to be suicidal or have a mental health problem, they just want to get men talking.

How does it work?

The clubs all run on the same format and adhere to the same guidelines. Five questions are asked each week designed not only to encourage men to talk, but to start to focus on the positives and on strategies to keep moving forward. There is no pressure to answer any of the questions and it is not uncommon for men to just listen for the first few sessions. (AMC flyer 2021).

Two of the five questions change from week to week, The group is more formally led. There is more structure. When the Andy Mans Club representative asks a question, they pass a football size spongy ball to the group. 

Each man has then, the opportunity to share what they want to share with other men, when they hold the ball. Sharing something personal can get emotional. A key principle of Andy's Man Club is anything that is said in the club, stays within the club. The purpose is not to discuss politics or religion.

To learn more about andy man club. Click

                                                                                                                     Photo by Kato Blackmore on Unsplash

Andy's Man Club is an exciting new development in UK Mental Health. If they succeed in establishing a Men's group everywhere in Cumbria, men struggling with their mental health will have easy and local access to a Men's group. They have the resources to achieve this,

Mind Ya Marras more informal way of talking is also very important.

                                                                                                           Photo by Giovanna Gomes on Unsplash

I belong to a Grumpy Old Man's group and been a member for over 8 years. We meet once a week in a local pub. You don't have to attend, just when you want to. We use the what's app to organise.

We like drinking good beer and talking about more personal things but we also like talking about politics and religion. We are all different politically but respect each other's opinions. Discussing and debating with a couple of pints is fun and relaxing. (that's the grumpy bit). 

Feeling relaxed and being a small group meeting regularly means we get to know each other as men over a long period of time.It is in a public space, so others may hear our conversations. This makes it a natural inclusive group. 

The group naturally evolved the expectation that one person speaks, others listen especially if someone wants to share something personal and intimate. However, we do split off on occasions during the night and speak in pairs or threes.

How do we monitor the health of the group ?

Do not get too big. Quite a few have joined so we can have 8 to 10 around the table. Which is fine. So when we want, we organise a separate GOM in another pub where there are 4 to 6. It is then much more easy for one person to speak and others to listen without judgement.

Trust is key. Sometimes men would like to join but they like to use the group for challenging banter or share what they hear with others. Trust has to be earned in our group by respecting confidentiality.

Do not use the group to impress others. Many men are so preoccupied with their work, it is difficult to switch off. Others feel good, when they talk about their personal achievements and receive admiration. Conversations are pleasing when they are honest and genuine.

There is no leader. No one person is more dominant than others. It is a leaderless group. The conversation is natural flowing in any direction any GOM member wants to take.

Accept men will leave. It is an open group not a closed group. The sum is more important than the parts. When we meet the group comes alive. When we go home (we stay no longer than two hours because we have families and partners) the group disappears. It is OK to never attend again. No one expects you to be there next time, but if you do, you are made to feel welcome. 

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Wednesday, 21 February 2024

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