#RealMenTalk campaign features Devon men sharing their mental health experiences

Posted on: 17 May 2018

A campaign which focuses on encouraging men to talk about mental health and tackle the stigma of poor mental health has launched in Devon, to mark the start of the national Mental Health Awareness Week.

#RealMenTalk features real Devon men, who have themselves experienced mental health problems, and have chosen to share their experiences with others, to encourage them to talk about their mental health and seek help and support.

The aim of the campaign is to enable men across the county to safeguard their own mental health, and to look after the mental health of those around them. It signposts men to information to find ways to look after their mental health and seek support for themselves or for others who need it.

The campaign seeks to increase the level of mental health awareness and improve support within their own communities, for people with low level mental health problems such as stress, anxiety and depression.

Shane Barker is now a coach at CITY Community Trust. But in August 2011, prior to becoming a coach, Shane experienced a mental health crisis when his mother took her own life.

“At the time I got the news about my Mum, I was with my son who was then a toddler,” said Shane. “I had to wait for my partner at the time, my son’s mum, to get home before I could properly start grieving. I was off work for a few months, but I returned to work too early, and although I carried on for another three years, I eventually lost my job through the stress of it all. I had my first proper meltdown at work and knew I couldn’t carry on any more.”

Shane began using cannabis and his problems escalated until he split from his partner.

“I was still working, and still seeing my son, but I wasn’t the person I was before all this happened. It just kept slowly taking me away from everything and everyone. Eventually I left, and I became homeless. I struggled to find a place and keep it, I was still using drugs, and I alienated everyone. I was lonely, barely socialising, and my anxiety and depression were through the roof.”

In 2015 Shane was referred to the Amber foundation – a North Devon based residential support unit.

“Amber took me in,” said Shane. “It’s a fantastic establishment that gives you the structure back that I lost – even menial tasks like getting up, washing and dressing. They support you day to day and it’s up to you to push yourself to get back to normality.”

Shane began to exercise as part of his recovery, and inspired people to get together to get fit. From here, he joined the CITY Community Trust and began coaching.

“Exercise is the new anti-depressant – there’s nothing like it.” Said Shane. “Anyone who has a mental or physical disability – exercise, sport and even walking every day is a massive contributor to positive mental health.”

Jamie Vittles is head of community for CITY Community Trust. He said: ‘At CITY Community Trust we work with people of all ages on a variety of projects supporting both their physical and mental wellbeing. We’re proud to be associated with this campaign and would urge men to take on board the message – that ‘real men do talk’. There is still much to do around the stigma of mental health and it’s great to see a campaign like this targeted at men who live in our area.

‘Shane’s experience shows how mental health issues can affect people at any time in their lives and the problems that can result from it. His experience also shows how it is possible, with the right support, to turn that around and we’re truly proud of him and his achievements.’

Councillor Roger Croad, Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, said: “Mental health is a significant and growing problem for people of all ages in Devon. Mental health does not discriminate, but it does appear that men find it harder to talk about it, so we’re trying to tackle this head on, by showing that real men do talk about their feelings, their emotions and their mental health.

“Sharing a problem with someone else who can encourage you to seek professional support if needed could make a real difference. Devon Partnership NHS Trust’s Depression and Anxiety Service offers a range of support and advice, from self-help tools to coping strategies and CBT.   And thoughts are not facts – simply voicing your worries to someone can help you see things from a different perspective.”

Mental health is a common problem in the UK and it is estimated that at any given time one in six British adults aged 16 to 74 is experiencing at least one diagnosable mental health problem. Mental health problems are diverse, ranging from common forms of mental illness, such as anxiety and depression, to schizophrenia which affects less than one person in 100.

In Devon, there are areas of the county where poor mental health is more prevalent. Ilfracombe, Barnstaple and pockets of Exeter fall into the top 10% for mental health prescribing and admissions in England. These areas of Devon correlate with those areas of deprivation in Devon and are in line with research showing that people living in deprived areas have higher levels of mental health problems.

2 comments on “#RealMenTalk campaign features Devon men sharing their mental health experiences

  1. David Parkes says:

    I think it is really important for men to talk about their Mental Health. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and used Devon Partnership NHS Trust’s Depression and Anxiety Service.

    I cannot praise the Service enough and would certainly encourage others to utilise this fantastic service.

  2. Jeff Walker says:

    Well done Shane for being brave and sharing your story. I admire that you have spoken out and shown that you can come through something like this and survive. We’ve been talking about mental health, mindfulness, mental wellbeing in our DCC team recently and the importance of people sharing their experiences to; inspire others to seek help, helping others feel more comfortable about speaking up about what they might be going through, and break down barriers and stigma linked to mental health situations. Especially important for us men, to speak out, as suicide is higher in younger males experiencing mental health needs. To keep sharing and talking about it, will only move us forward in our understanding and compassion of people going through this. Very positive.

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