Men’s support group is like a gym for your mental health

The inaugural session of a men’s mental health support group in St. Paul went well according to organizer Nathan Taylor.

According to Taylor, they had five participants as well as the facilitator there for the first meeting on Feb. 27. Four people attended in person and two participated via zoom.

“We did want to create the place and the space to meet in person. Although, albeit with masks and social distancing in place and contact tracing. But we’re supporting the zoom connection just in the event that you can’t make it but you’d like to participate,” said Taylor.

Called “St. Paul Men, Let’s Talk” the group received nearly $20,000 through Alberta’s COVID-19 Mental Health Grant. They’ve used the money to hire Bo Popovic as a facilitator for the meetings, which happen twice a month.

Popovic is a mental health therapist working with Alberta Health Services who is based in Edmonton, although he has previous connections to the St. Paul area.

“Rather than only being men supporting men we could have somebody who’s trained to give us a bit of advice,” said Taylor, thanking Town of St. Paul FCSS for helping the group to apply for the grant and making space available for them to meet.

The group is intended to be an opportunity for men to receive support from their peers before they find themselves in the throes of a mental health crisis and needing acute care.

“It would be like a fitness center right? You go to the gym not because you’re sick but because you want to be healthy. You go to the doctor because you’re sick today. So this is a gym for your mental health. It’s proactive,” said Taylor.

One of the benefits of having Popovic as a facilitator is that if someone at the group does need to be referred for a higher level of care, there is someone there who can help direct that man to better resources, either professionally or through other support networks.

“This is meant as an early intervention and support for each other,” said Taylor.

He said while it’s important for everyone to have access to mental health care and support systems, one of the challenges men are facing because of COVID-19 and the increase in layoffs and work from home situations is the lack of casual water cooler conversations where they can blow off a little bit of steam or vent about things that are frustrating or difficult.

“I’m pretty good at it because I’m a talkative guy, but for a lot of other men it’s not something that they would phone up a buddy and say ‘hey I’m having a rough day and just need to complain about it,’” said Taylor.

He said that while the support received from wives and families is great, and an important thing for men to have, often people don’t believe those closest to them when they say something is a problem and they should get help.

“Sometimes it just takes that third party to say that to say, I’ve gone through that same thing. That was what it was for me being diagnosed with ADHD,” said Taylor.

“As much as my wife told me you have this issue, you should get support. It doesn’t matter, they’re not going to do it. But once I heard of other men my age going through the same thing. ‘Hey, if they’re getting the help I can get help.’ And then I went and got help.”

According to Taylor, the reception of the group has been extremely positive so far and the feedback from participants was that it’s something which should keep going.

Since the first meeting on Saturday, the Facebook group for sharing information like the zoom link and organizing future meetings has nearly doubled in size from 11 members to 21. They’ve also had other communities reach out to ask questions about how the group is set up and facilitated.

Taylor said long term, they hope to increase the number of participants to 10 to 12, but it’s meant to be something men can drop in and out of as they need.

“That’s why I think it’s important that we set up a regular interval system so that if you can’t make it one week you can come two weeks later,” said Taylor.

A poster for the group has been shared more than 120 times, often by women in the community. It features a man with a beard and the words ‘tired, angry, distant, stressed, irritable, depressed, short tempered.’ Taylor said those words were chosen specifically because they know part of how to make men aware of the group is to market to the spouses who might notice those behaviours or qualities first.

“Obviously if you notice it yourself great, but if you notice that in your spouse or partner maybe they’re having these issues and maybe you should encourage them to come,” said Taylor.

He said when FCSS had hosted a men’s workshop pre-COVID one of the questions was about how people heard about it and “a lot of the answers were, ‘my wife or my spouse said I should come.”

The next meetings are scheduled for March 13 and March 27 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. at the Town of St. Paul FCSS office. There is no cost and no pre-registration required.

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