April 26th 2018 was the day it began. The first meeting of Blokes and Black Dogs, an initiative that encourages men to talk about how they feel, with the goal of staving off mental health issues and, ultimately, helping to prevent guys committing suicide. A secondary aim is evolving, that of promoting awareness of mental health and trying to normalise conversations on the subject. But firstly, let’s get talking!
So the day arrived. I was a bit nervous, never having done anything like this before. Actually I was bloody terrified. What was I going to say, how many would turn up, what were their expectations? Was the room too big, or too small, too hot or too cold? Conference room set up or a circle? Would people find the Impact Hub, would they be able to park? Fortunately, for me I knew that some good friends were definitely going to be there so I wouldn’t be sitting alone in a darkened room doubting myself…. It is amazing how easily you can slip into a negative mindset, doubting, lacking confidence both in yourself and in what you are trying to achieve. This is what we are trying to prevent! And this shows that sometime we have the potential to become paralysed, scared to act because we might screw up.
Let’s turn that around though. Sometimes you have to back yourself and what you believe in, see the opportunity rather than the pitfalls. The idea and the concept of blokes and black dogs was not new, it was effective in UK (AndysManClub) and it was only really costing me time. I just had to trust the process, and learn. Learning from the experience was really important, and over the last few months I have learnt a huge amount, especially surrounding communication and of course, mental health!
Back to 26th April. To my surprise, 10 chaps arrived. We had hard conversations about the challenges we face in life. Real conversations, and genuine feelings. Outpourings of emotion. Not very blokey at all you might think, but it was! In terms of language, and context. So incredibly open. It was so encouraging to see that we CAN talk. Some were strangers, and some guys I had known for years, but we were all in it together, listening and encouraging. You also got the sense that some of the conversations were being had for the first time!
The evening closed and I went to the pub to decompress a little. There had been a lot of emotion in the room and I needed a pint and some reflection. My reflection being that the meeting had achieved its objectives!
The next day, I booked the following meeting, though this time I felt a lot more confident, like what we were doing really had the potential to make a difference. I was getting feedback through the What’s App group telling me that this was the case. Eight guys at the next meeting, similar conversations, but encouragement and positive vibes too. Some really hard stories, but uplifting moments as well.
And we continue, just about to hold our 5th meeting on 26th July, exactly 3 months on. In relative terms, this group, this idea is still in it’s infancy. It has had a positive impact, and we are talking. Conversations are beginning, and I am sharing the idea, and increasing awareness via social media and personal testimonies. Mental health professionals are taking interest and the concept is being shared and supported by them.
So please help spread the word, please help us to encourage men to open up. They don’t have to come to a meeting to talk, to stop themselves from being isolated.
75% of suicides are men. 25% of us will suffer a form of mental illness. There remains a stigma.
This wont be fixed overnight.
But I am in this for the long haul.