Man enough to talk about depression?

As part of a nationwide effort to end stigma around mental health, an organisation that provides mentoring for vulnerable young men is using its unique experience to help end the silence on men’s psychological suffering

The place of young men in our communities is in crisis on a global scale; a wildfire of fear and societal breakdown is burning holes in the fabric of society. In the absence of adults that can be trusted and the absence of accountable rites of passage, young men throughout the world are initiating themselves into adulthood through crime and violence.

But a charity based in the south-east of England has been leading the way in addressing the problem, blazing a trail for nearly two decades in helping vulnerable young men transition into being responsible adults.

Abandofbrothers (ABoB) establish local communities of skilled male mentors and train them up to provide practical and personal support to young men experiencing challenging life situations, enabling them to turn their lives around.

Founder, Michael Boyle, explains how it began: “I realised there was a deficit in my own life, of being uncertain if I was ever going to grow up.” And the answer? “I finally grew up when I chose to take responsibility for other people beyond myself, without the need for any immediate reward.”

ABoB run courses that are developed in direct response to the needs and wants of the young men taking part. Crucially, the charity recognises that in order to hold an initiatory journey with lasting meaning, the adult men who volunteer to staff the courses that they run need to undergo their own initiation. So they bring the men together, develop their mentoring skills and emotional intelligence, and enhance their authenticity and confidence.

“The key is that they learn something about themselves,” explains Boyle. “We meet the young men exactly where they are and create a space where it’s okay to be or do what you want. You can get what you want if you give what you have. What we do is not about being a man, but being your own man.”

ABoB is now launching a programme to use its experience to help men deal with mental health issues. From the end of 2012 and into 2013, the charity’s Man Enough project will see them work with 12 adult men from a range of backgrounds from east and south-east London, who have experienced mental health difficulties. The men will be given free training in order to start a conversation about male mental health with others in their communities, and will be asked to speak to up to 50 other men.

The aim is to encourage men across the generations to talk openly about the challenges they face with mental health, and to address the long-held silence around an often painfully hidden problem.

“Men can often find talking about their own mental issues very difficult,” said Man Enough project manager Danny Sollé . “However, mental health is a vitally important issue for men. Over three times the number of men commit suicide compared to women, and men are three times less likely to seek help if they are feeling depressed.”

The project is being funded through Time to Change, England’s biggest programme to end the stigma and discrimination faced by people with mental health problems, which is co-ordinated by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness and financed by the Department of Health and Comic Relief.

Will, a young person who attend an ABoB course, explains how the organisation has helped him move forward: “I’m more focused on what I want, getting a decent job as an electrician and hopefully getting my own place.”

ABoB’s vital work is reconnecting generations and providing a community space where individuals can share and be together; not in competition, but in mutual support.

“It’s been good to be a part of something… fellas coming together, doing activities together,” says Will. “It’s nice to have a group of safe people around you.”