When in doubt, walk it out is the mantra of Matt Pollard, founder of West Sussex-based men’s mental health charity MenWalkTalk.
Matt set up the charity last year, having felt the way work stress had impacted on his mood. He started walking as a way to make himself feel better, but after a while wanted to start connecting with other people.
“But you can’t talk to strangers you meet when you’re walking, unless you have a dog.”
It was then he realised how walking and talking can offer people the opportunity to talk about their mental health, and the things that are troubling them. Matt was aware of how much men can struggle with their mental health, and are at particular risk of suicide – and MenWalkTalk was born with the aim of providing an environment in which men can become more confident and comfortable about discussing their mental health.
“Some people have a fear of accessing help, but MenWalkTalk is peer support, not therapy. We’re in contact with GPs and social prescribing teams, but we are also linking to other Pathfinder West Sussex services.”
As well as the walks, which happen in line with current Covid guidelines, members of the group meet online weekly for social chats, and there’s also a WhatsApp group that is used for peer support.
“Walk around when you’re on Zoom, if you can. You don’t have to stay at your desk. I use a GoPro to show my walk when I’m online.”
Aware that for some people the hardest part can be making that first call or walking through the door for the first time, Matt is always happy to chat with someone before they attend one of the walks. Sometimes these pre-walk chats and meetings give men the opportunity to make disclosures about their mental health before they join a group for the first time, which can make things easier.
He’s also aware of the important role partners, friends and family can make to a man struggling to join a group like MenWalkTalk – just by being there to drop them off for a walk and picking them up at the end.
Matt has attracted a number of supporters and celebrity ambassadors including Hollyoaks actor David Tag and actor/presenter Dan Woodwood. Both of them have recorded videos about MenWalkTalk, which can be found on their website www.menwalktalk.co.uk.
MenWalkTalk groups currently meet for walks in Worthing, Littlehampton and Bognor, and will soon be having sessions in Lewes and Eastbourne, with plans for expansion into Crawley and/or Horsham.