According to a new poll, four in 10 men in the UK are more at risk of suicide since going into lockdown.
Kenny Mammarella-D'Cruz FRSA argues that with the end of lockdown in sight, it is more important than ever that men get help to keep them safe, sane and out of trouble and asks whether daily men’s groups are the answer.
Let us hope that in a matter of weeks the worst of it will all be over. The third and (hopefully) final UK lockdown will have ended and people everywhere can rejoice in the notion that they can, if they wish, shake hands, high five, hug, kiss, hold and embrace others from outside their immediate family, or chosen bubble, once again. It will no doubt be a joyous, long-awaited occasion, and hopefully the hazy springtime sun will make a re-appearance to add warmth to the occasion.
But for many people, including many men, the end of lockdown might put them on a collision course with dangerous bad habits and push them back into a now alien society that they have been sheltered from for over a year.
Nearly four in 10 (38%) men in the UK surveyed by YouGov and Jacamo say they have noticed a negative effect on their mental health since going into lockdown last March. Feedback from 1,920 Samaritans charity volunteers – who have been taking calls throughout lockdown – has also revealed that poorer middle-aged men are the group most at risk of suicide during the current Covid-19 crisis, with a third of the 7,000 requests they receive every day relating directly to the pandemic.
One outstanding lifeline for many men through the last 12 months has been the MenCheck-in online daily men’s groups, which I set up in March 2020.
It was the prospect of the first lockdown, and the recognition that we needed to find ways to keep men sane and families safe during times of social isolation, that led me to set up the MenCheck-in groups. Since then, the sessions have been attended thousands of times over the three lockdowns. These have helped men become more able to deal with their displaced emotions, by speaking things out rather than lashing out on others, or over-thinking and getting into depression, suppression and suicidal thoughts and feelings.
The meetings began as lunchtime, by-donation bitesize events and now – nearly 365 days and over 500 groups later – we have created an engaged online community that provides social medicine for group participants; men are able to share their situations and stories, learn from one another’s experiences and simply feel like they belong.
This was something that I yearned for almost two decades ago when I returned from travelling having worked and lived abroad. Although I had really missed my friends, I found that they were distracted by money, power, drink, drugs and partying. That was what led me to thinking about starting a men’s group.
At these groups men are empowered by listening to their peers who are going through similar situations without having to navigate pecking orders, experts, bigots or boisterous behaviour. With no pressure to speak and no-one telling others what to do or how to fix their lives, men have a safe online space to hang out, be heard, taking the edge of their lockdown situations and often against all odds, grow as self-aware, able men. I am confident that once lockdown ends and men are free to resume their own version of a normal life, they will continue to attend the daily sessions to ground themselves and remember what is important, as they venture back into the world and potentially back into old habits.
Mental health is a highly gendered issue and, in general, men prefer side-by-side communication, and tend to avoid clinical language and settings. However, because we offer a men’s group, rather than limiting our focus to mental health support, this allows for other needs to be met, like needs for connection, community, growth as an authentic man and having a good laugh. Our aim is to prevent mental health issues occurring or escalating; if men have nowhere to share the small stuff or 'just hang out' before they know, they can face bigger problems.
Sessions are traditionally held in clinical rooms and swanky offices, but now, because MenCheck-ins happen online, it is much more personable. People feel more comfortable in their own surroundings, and therefore feel safer and find it easier to share their feelings and explore their lives, their motives and even their pasts.
Essentially, a MenCheck-in is a space to share whatever is on your mind, release some pressure and connect with others in a welcoming, confidential and non-clinical space. Our aim is for these groups to be as available as 12-step programmes such as AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and feel as normal a routine for men as heading to the gym for a workout or the pub to wind down.
As one regular put it: “The groups are essential for me for maintaining my sanity and remembering what life is really about… I can chat, hang out, laugh, talk about real issues and feel connected in such a disconnected and chaotic time. I’ve checked in while I’ve been dangerously on the edge and I’ve also shown up for good company with nothing in particular up at all.”
These mini-men's groups are currently running online every day, Mon-Sat 12.30pm-1.30pm, Sun 10.30am-11.30am, and you can donate however much you like towards the running of the online MenCheck-Ins.
Kenny is a personal development consultant who helps men (and women) achieve their life, relationship and career goals. Download his ebook, Online Men’s Group Success: A step-by-step guide to facilitating personal development groups for men.