Of course, it’s never advisable to generalize, in this case, however, the evidence demonstrates that men are notoriously difficult to serve when it comes to mental health support.
With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, we at The Optimist Daily are thrilled to highlight initiatives that positively impact hard-to-reach groups in the realm of mental health. One of these initiatives is a simple walking group based in London that was launched by Dean Corney, a firefighter with the London Fire Brigade, and his colleague Mark Smith.
Walking for mental health
“A while back, after a traumatic incident, I realized that I was not coping, and needed to talk to someone,” recounts Corney. “I went to work the next day, got the chaps together, and said: ‘Look, I’m not coping, and need to talk.’ The response was immediate and positive, with others coming forward and admitting they also needed help coping with mental health problems.”
Corney’s bravery to start that conversation inspired Smith to partner up with him to organize a men’s walking group that would stroll around Beckenham Place Park in southeast London. The group isn’t exclusive to firefighters but is open to all men.
“We thought that it would just be the two of us, but 10 people turned up, and the group has since gone from strength to strength, with some men joining regularly and others dipping in and out, as they feel the need.”
Corney and Smith work to ensure that the group is a safe and judgment-free space so that men can get comfortable opening up.
“Men often don’t want to show weakness in front of women or their families, and equally don’t want to come to confide spaces, such as a meeting in a village hall,” Corney explains further. “But walking in nature, in the fresh air is good for you in so many ways, and just being with other like-minded men, whether you want to talk or not, is helpful in itself.”
Men’s walking groups are catching on
Those who feel like this type of walking group is something they’d be interested in but don’t live close to Beckenham Place Park are in luck as similar groups aimed specifically at men (like The Proper Blokes Club) are springing up across the nation.
This is fantastic news as these groups are breaking down the taboos surrounding men and mental health. Instead of being shunned, participants are encouraged to speak openly about their experiences and problems.
What about alternative spaces?
The establishment of men’s walking groups as safe spaces for men to unburden themselves of their mental stresses and woes, they tend to be more popular with white men. To help provide the same kind of space for men of color, Maxwell Ayamba founded 100 Black Men Walk. Though the group was originally created to invite middle-aged black men into the Yorkshire countryside, it now extends an invitation to all and has rebranded to Walk4Health.
“The only places where black middle-aged men tend to share a common space are the barber’s shops, where they divulge their pent-up emotions and frustrations facing them daily. Mental health remains a taboo in these communities, something people are not prepared to talk about, and many have committed suicide,” Ayamba says.
“Creating a space where people are not judged, but treated with kindness, love, and respect has gone a long way to help our members.”