Written by Mike Richard, founder of Talk About It Mate, a social enterprise based in Greater Manchester.
As a man who experiences mental health struggles, I am on a journey, which I use to inspire and help others, it’s not big and it’s not flashy, but it’s my real life.
There’s power in my story, and of every person I interact with. If you are reading this, I know you have to ability to use your own story to motivate, inspire and educate others.
I created a support group as I felt that was what I would have benefitted from at my lowest point. I used to believe that quotes were tacky, but now I welcome them. ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’ is something that I have personified throughout.
The profile of Mental Health in the media has increased considerably in recent years. Well known individuals, including those from the royal family have used their platform for good. Motivational slogans and hashtags are great for raising awareness, but I am not interested in chasing likes.
Making meaningful connections who I can interact with authentically fuels me to keep doing what I do.
We can all spread the message, but it is my mission to make a positive difference, as I have the passion and drive to do it. To do that, I have consistently shown the courage to stand up, as a regular guy and be a role model. If our role models are like us, are at our level, come from the same communities and have shared similar experiences, then they are more accessible. They are not better than us. They even struggle themselves. We can identify with them and begin our own journeys alongside them.
Pre Covid, I spent 4 months preparing for face to face men’s peer support groups only to have to suspend them after our first week. It became a huge test of my resilience. Nothing will ever change without action and I have worked tirelessly to create authentic and meaningful content through my blogs and more recently our podcast, where we were able to record one of our men’s sessions. I have spoken to many ‘ordinary’ people with extraordinary stories, who I’ve learned so much from.
Our virtual meetings started to have a positive impact straight away as we all processed what was happening in our world. It is amazing to see how quickly participants become comfortable sharing openly around each other. They have grown ever since, and we quickly moved to twice weekly sessions and then added a women’s group, sourcing facilitators from our own community.
It is all too easy to pigeon-hole and stereotype men as being the strong and silent types, who rarely communicate their feelings. Historically, boys showing emotion has been unwelcomed or even frowned upon. So, it is no wonder that men are pre-programmed to not open-up. Strength is often linked to stoicism and not displaying certain emotions. Is there any wonder that men bottle up their feelings? If we can bring them into non-judgemental safe spaces, connection can begin. I’ve seen it happen twice a week for the past 7 months.
Now the conversation is changing, we have to provide platforms for growth. The courage to be vulnerable and acknowledging this as a strength is a start. But it must be accessible. That is why role models are so important at a community and grass roots level. I have connected with many men’s group who do incredible work. They are role models, out there taking action to address the high suicide rates in men. Areas such as Warrington have a wealth of dedicated groups and individuals connecting and taking action to deliver excellent provision. Action is the catalyst for change.
Change comes from the grassroots up.
The idea of kindness culture is more than just a hashtag. Real community connection is what many of us crave. Isolation puts us at risk, so organisations like Talk About It Mate are a constant. We cannot do the work for you, but we can give you the space to do it at your own pace and in your own way.
Normalising sharing and asking for help is a way to change our approach to mental health as a society. As a teacher, it is my vision to deliver programmes in school to develop emotional literacy from the early years. We can’t just say ‘Be Kind’ to each other first learning to be kind to ourselves and without modelling it first. Unsolicited advice isn’t always what people want or need. From my experiences, people want to be seen, heard, and valued. Not so much to ask, is it?
The inner work is done in the private moments, in the space of our own heads, as we acknowledge what we are feeling, explore why we are feeling it and accept that are feelings are valid, nor do they make us weak. As people do that, growth is happening. I know how uncomfortable that can be.
My advice: Sit with it. That’s it.
If we process our experiences and connections it will make us better prepared than they were yesterday, for whatever is to come. Every single person has the capacity for growth, we just need the right conditions.
Thank you Mike for sharing your experience and advice. We here at ECBC believe it is important to hear from a range of voices and as three women appreciate you taking your time to help fight the stigma attached to male mental health.
You can find more information here about Talk About It Mate or via social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We will be interviewing Talk About It Mate in our next #knowyourcommunity campaign.