This blog post is part of a series on men’s mental health for Movember. In this series, different men give their perspective on male mental health. What does it mean to deal with mental health as a man?
In certain cases as with the interview below, people have had the courage to reveal their identity. This is both brave and vulnerable, congratulations to them!
What made you want to share your story? Please introduce yourself
Hi my name is Ben Akers, I’m 44, father of 3. I live in Bristol in the UK. I’m a Documentary Maker, Problem Solver and Mental Fitness Campaigner.
Have you ever experienced a mental health or wellbeing issue? If so, when was the first time you became aware of it or experienced it?
I think everyone has. It’s like asking someone : have you had any physical health issues? I’ve broken my leg – and I also had bad depression at Uni.
I grew up around mental ill health: my dad was schizophrenic so my first visit to a therapist was at 11. I’ve been up and down with my mental health – as I have with my physical health – my whole life.
What did you experience that made you aware of it, and what did you do about it?
My mum became a therapist while I was a kid after everything that happened with my dad. She has been for 35 years so I have been aware of talking about issues since then. I haven’t always done it,but I have tried.
You run a group called Talk Club, can you tell us a bit more about that? Why did you set it up?
Talk Club was the result of a film I made called “Steve.”
Throughout my teens as I battled with my own issues my best friend Steve Yates and his family were some stability in my unstable world. Fast forward a few decades Steve was living in Canada, I was living in Australia and we had drifted apart. We had both become fathers and life had got busy – so we hadn’t really talked about anything that was important until it was too late. Because on May 28th 2014 he took his own life.
I was broken. I spent 3 years dealing with the grief. Trying to work out “why?” Then I read an article that said that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 and it made me sick. In the same magazine I read that men of my age watch sport and documentaries,so I thought “that’s what I’ll do – I’ll make a film” .
On what would have been Steve’s 42nd birthday (December 2017) I embarked on creating a film to try to save the next “Steve”. For a year I travelled the country talking to amazing people, finding out why suicide is the main cause of death in men.
As I was making the film I discovered that while people are doing great things – like Luke at Andy’s Man Club, CALM, or Movember. But I discovered that there is almost a gap in the thinking. A lot of organisations are focused on keeping men alive when they are ill, not trying to stop them getting ill. I talked to Danny Sculthorpe and he introduced me to the idea of Mental Fitness. Suddenly the penny dropped.
With other people from the film (there are six founders) we created a mental fitness movement: Talk Club. It’s designed to get men talking about their worries earlier on.
I’m proud to say that in a little over 18 months we have nearly 1’500 men in our online community and 50 physical groups set up all over the world, all designed to promote mental fitness. To get men talking with a simple proposition: how are you? Out of 10?
You can watch my full TED talk about it here or below
Why do you think men’s groups or safe spaces where you can talk are so important, and what difference does this make for mental health?
It allows men to be vulnerable. Many men aren’t use to dropping their guard,to letting others in or to admitting their problems. And to showing each other support. Many men just need to get it off their chests. Talk Club allows them to do that without shame and demonstrates that other men feel the same as they do.
With this in mind, what are your lessons learned with regards to taking care of your mental health?
I use the numbers daily,checking in with myself. For example I can’t control what number I wake up at – but I can control the way I look at rest of the day. So if I wake up at a 5 I ask myself: how do I get myself to a 6 by breakfast, a 7 by lunch and an 8 by dinner. This is me taking control of my mental state. But also if I’m feeling down – tomorrow is another day to build.
What have you learned from running Talk Club that you wish more people knew?
That you don’t need to be mentally ill to look after your mental health,that’s why mental fitness works as a concept. Talk Club is just like a gym but for your brain. Physically fit people go to the gym to keep fit. You might have started going to get fit, but you keep going to stay fit. Now do the same with mental fitness:talking regularly about your stresses and worries will keep you mentally fit.
It’s very simple – here it is a short explanation of how Talk Club works
Can you talk a bit about society’s perception of male mental health? With your experience from Talk Club, do you feel that it has been harmful for some men, preventing them from opening up?
I think it’s changed in recent years and even more in recent months since Covid as people are increasingly aware of looking after their mental health. There still is a stigma – but not as much as even 5 years ago. The reason we are growing so fast is because the need is there. Many people talk about mental health awareness – Talk Club is mental health action
According to you, why is it important for men to speak up about their mental health, and for society to address it as a whole?
To save lives. Current statistics say that a man takes his life every 90 minutes in the UK. Suicide is preventable:talking earlier about our problems will save lives. A mentally fit man is good for his family , his friends, his colleagues and society as a whole.
What would you like to say to other men who might be suffering in silence from a mental health issue?
Join Talk Club. Join us at wetalkclub.com You can tell us how you feel in our confidential, supportive private facebook group or one of the 50 groups around the world (we are in places as far away as Singapore and Sydney) Just tell us how you are, out of 10. The Men only private Talking group on Facebook can be found here
How can Talk Club help?
This is how – Print out double sided. Fold in Half 3 times.
Where can people find you?
Or just email me at Ben@wetalkclub.com
Watch the trailer for “Steve”: