Norfolk projects encourage men to ‘open up’ about mental health
- Credit: Archant
As with most situations in life, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to mental health. One area that requires multi and varied approaches is men’s mental health.
Alarming figures released in September by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) revealed that the suicide rate for men in England and Wales in 2019 was the highest for two decades, with men aged between 45-49 remaining at the highest risk.
The data also revealed that male suicides accounted for about three-quarters of suicide deaths registered in 2019 – 4,303 compared with 1,388 women.
Offering the right kinds of support is vital to addressing these worrying statistics. Norfolk County Council has invested more than £1m to support mental health and suicide prevention since 2018, including setting up a countywide service run by Norwich-based MensCraft, which promotes a suicide prevention programme by engaging men to take part in activities.
Tim Allard, development manager at the Norwich-based charity MensCraft says simply getting men together can help share their problems.
“Men are often reluctant, hesitant and avoid taking their health seriously,” he said. “At the same time, services need more effective approaches in dealing with the male psychology. We want to bring people together to share ideas and look at ways of working together on supporting vulnerable and disadvantaged men.
“For all the conversations about ‘redefining masculinity’ men are still largely defined by what they do as much as by who they are. From childhood, we are taught to suppress our emotions and as we get older, we are expected to ‘man up,’ to bury our emotions ever more deeply.
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“As a result, when we are affected by significant life events like relationship changes or breakdown, and transitional periods such as redundancy or enforced under-employment, we tend not to reach out for help, but to turn in on ourselves.”
Tim highlights that all of these factors have a negative impact on wellbeing, leading to poor physical and mental health.
“We are twice as likely to be referred to mental health services and many times more likely than women to turn away from support and take our own lives,” he said.
But more men are beginning to speak out thanks to initiatives such as MensCraft, which encourages them to understand that it’s OK to ask for help and that they can benefit from talking to others.
Through its Prevention and Positive Activities Programme, MensCraft provides a trusting and safe environment for men to talk. They can get one-to-one support and advice, mentoring and guidance on other agencies that can help.
Many men are keen on getting involved in activities as part of their recovery. MensCraft offers a wide range of activities, some of which have been able to continue during the Covid-19 pandemic, with safety measures in place.
“Experience suggests that men like a project, something meaningful to get involved in,” said Tim. “Getting men into a room is a challenge. Once they are there – they will do plenty of talking as well as doing!”
There’s also a ‘Walk and Talk’ group, which meets outdoors, plus socially-distanced sessions at the Pitt Stop men’s space on Pitt Street in Norwich.
A range of activities are available online, including a film club, quizzes and a storytelling group. In addition, the charity offers workshops on conflict resolution, fatherhood and parenting.
Find out more at www.menscraft.org.uk or call 07514 254200.
Before David* (66) retired, he had to take time off work with stress and poor mental health. He has dyslexia and left school without any qualifications, affecting his confidence and self-esteem.
David signed up for a Pitt Stop Active history course. “I’d never done anything like this before, but it’s nice to do something a bit more intellectual,” he said. “Studying has taken me into areas I’ve struggled with all my life but it is helping me to overcome my disability – dyslexia can be very restricting.”
David is also a regular on the Heritage Health Walks. “I didn’t know anyone else when I joined but it has helped with my low moods and my general mental wellbeing. It’s too easy for me to just withdraw into my shell, so mixing with other people does help a lot.”
*Not his real name
Here we look at some more organisations and groups which help men address their mental health:
The Outsiders runs The 12th Man campaign, which supports men to talk openly about mental health and to see it as a sign of strength. The campaign offers mental health first aid training to anyone whose work, hobby or sporting activity gives them the opportunity to have a conversation with men, such as barbers, tattooists, taxi drivers, people who work in pubs, cycling and football clubs.
Barney (53), is a keen cyclist. He heard about The 12th Man campaign through his voluntary work at a community bike shop and joined a half-day training session designed to raise awareness of mental health and provide basic knowledge about common mental health problems.
“The training made me think about how mental health issues can manifest in different ways,” said Barney. “When a person who is usually open and friendly becomes bad-tempered and withdrawn, their behaviour could be masking other issues. They may be suffering. Often when you ask somebody how they are they will just say ‘OK’ but now I make an effort to ask twice to check they really are OK.”
Many people who take the training come through cycling groups. Cycling has proven mental and physical health benefits. It’s a popular activity among men and when riding in a group, many men feel able to open up and talk about their feelings. Since completing his training, Barney has offered to lead some of The 12th Man rides.
Read my Mind
Read my Mind is a library-based project which encourages men who are either experiencing depression or low mood levels, to take part in group reading activities.
Funded by Norfolk County Council Public Health, the project is for men aged 18-plus and promotes reading as a way for improving men’s mental health and wellbeing.
Now available online, participants are invited to join a range of reading activities. Highlights have included an online poetry workshop with Norfolk-based scriptwriter, poet and creative writing teacher James McDermott, and a shared reading session saw participants read aloud from a book by best-selling author Matt Haig.
The Read my Mind team is currently creating a series of podcasts in which men who have taken part talk about the benefits of reading with others. The team aims to develop the project by working with partners in farming, engineering and manual labouring industries.
All Read my Mind participants receive a free book by Matt Haig – either ‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’ or ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’. A participant on the shared reading session said: “I read a couple of times a month, and sometimes find it hard to get into a book. When I find a book I really enjoy, I’m aware of the benefit of reading and I like how it gives me space to switch off.
“I took part in the online shared reading using Matt Haig’s book ‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’. This was a very new experience for me, and I felt a bit daunted. The discussion around experiences using social media was something that I related to and I found myself joining in the conversation with others taking part.”
If you are interested in finding out more about Read my Mind, or to take part, email firstname.lastname@example.org
All to Play For
When Active Norfolk was approached by the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) in 2017 about the need to bridge the gap between men suffering with mental health problems and the services that are available to them, the two organisations partnered together to devise a programme that would offer free, relaxed football drop-in sessions in Bowthorpe, Norwich for men with poor mental health while giving attendees access to vital support services they may not have been aware of.
For those who have been able to attend All To Play For so far, the impact it has made on their lives has been significant, with participants almost universally reporting an upturn in personal confidence which has, in many cases, led to other positive lifestyle changes.
All to Play For sessions are now available in Norwich and Great Yarmouth, to give more men the chance to benefit from judgement-free fun activity sessions while providing access to vital mental health support services at the same time.
The All to Play For sessions have re-started following the coronavirus outbreak, with guidelines in place to maximise players’ safety at the events.
Sessions are available both in the evening and daytime. Find a session near you at www.activenorfolk.org/all-to-play-for
Norfolk County Council Public Health has partnered with Archant to create a “Not Alone” supplement which raises awareness of the help and support on offer across the county. Click here to view the supplement.