Updated: Feb 20
Words: Paul Chapman
Images: Jason Cotton
You may recall we met Jason Cotton in June last year. He and his friend, Frazer Longford, were running Men-Talk sessions at Royal Mail, where they work, and in the community from a base in the Parish Hall, Stonegravels.
“it’s often difficult to bridge the gap between receiving care from the hospital and returning home to try and cope.
This month we’re catching up with Jason again to see what has happened since. It’s been an amazing six months, with services expanded, and four external awards received including Peak FMs ‘Community Hero’, The BBC/SYCFs ‘Outstanding Champion’, The Voluntary Sector's ‘Most Innovative Project’ and the Derbyshire Times 'Business Excellence Award for Community Contribution’. Testament to the work Jason and the rest of the team have put in, and the impact that work has had locally.
Men-Talk was instigated following the suicide of one of Frazer’s friends and a realisation that for many men, when they feel at their lowest, they often feel they don’t have anyone to talk to. In recognition of this Frazer booked a meeting room at work, invited all the men in the office along and told his story. He said that if anyone ever felt like that, they could talk to him. Jason was one of those colleagues who was going through a tough time. Having not spoken to anyone about his situation, he realised that as time went on, he was experiencing suicidal ideation, feeling overwhelmed with stress and depression, thinking about suicide more and more. He approached Frazer, shared his story and felt immediately better and much more positive. And so, on the back of this revelation, they decided to help others by setting up the Men-Talk sessions; providing a safe and confidential platform for guys to speak openly without stigma and fear of judgement.
The sessions have since moved to the Ernie Moss meeting room @The Hub, located to the rear of the Proact stadium , from 7pm to 9pm every second Thursday of the month. You just drive round to the back of the stadium, where there’s plenty of parking, and the meeting rooms are there. The format tends to be; a warm welcome from the team, a chat about the background of Men-Talk from Jason or one of the other team members, and a short talk from a guest speaker, often from a local supportive charity or organisation. Once the guest speakers have spoken, the meeting becomes an informal chat for men only 18+ where people can feel free to speak or simply listen as others share their stories.
Recognising that men aren’t the only ones struggling with mental health problems, the team have now established Fem-Talk, using the same format as the men only sessions but for women. These are in the same place, the Ernie Moss room, but take place on the first Thursday of the month. These sessions, run by Rebecca Tustin and Cath Jones, offer help, support and a safe and confidential place for women to talk.
Other opportunities to provide support have emerged and the team have run sessions at The Hartington mental health suite at Chesterfield Royal with in-patients. Jason explained, “it’s often difficult to bridge the gap between receiving care from the hospital and returning home to try and cope. The aim of the sessions at the Hartington suite is to provide on-site support, raising awareness of what we have available to people when they return home, to encourage people to come along to the Men-Talk and Fem-Talk sessions, if they need them.”
They’ve also run sessions at the Chesterfield FC Football Academy for 16-18 year olds, encouraging young people to talk about their mental health, breaking down stigma and empowering them to take control.
More recently they’ve started Teen-Talk, “a project really close to my heart”, Jason explained. “If we can intervene early, and give young people a chance to talk, with information and support, I feel we can make a real difference. My aim is to work with all sixth forms in Chesterfield. So far, we’re working with Chesterfield College and Brookfield Community School where we deliver assembly speeches, classroom talks and a variety of innovative engagement opportunities reaching out to as many young adults as we can, making our plea and encouraging them to talk about their mental health so they feel empowered enough in crisis to know what to do, to know what to say and to know who to say it too. The Teen-talk programme is mainly but not exclusively for the lads.”
“it’s when I’m involved with people who have really struggled. Through the meetings they might start to open up or become quite emotional.
The team working in the Teen-Talk programme are:
Clare Black, a mum whose son and brother both took their own lives last year. Clare’s story is very powerful for any child considering suicide.
Bradley Littlewood, a 20-year-old who has been through some tough times. He came to a Men-Talk session, shared his story and talked about his hopes and how he’d like to speak and inspire others. Jason and the Men-Talk team gave him the opportunity to try speaking in a supportive environment and he’s since found his way as a motivational speaker.
Adam Bingham is the other member of the team; he runs the Chester Street Gym and has had his own struggles. He speaks to young people about the benefits of exercise and good health, and offers the gym as a place where mental health support is available.
Cath Jones, one of the facilitators from Fem-Talk, offers an available female-led support group.
When I asked Jason what he was most proud of, he explained “it’s when I’m involved with people who have really struggled. Through the meetings they might start to open up or become quite emotional. Rather than just signposting, it's rewarding to link people up or introduce them to a community group or activitiy and to witness them changing their lives. You see people's confidence return and lives being changed and that gives me the biggest buzz. It’s inspiring and fulfilling to connect people innovatively, healing diverse and highly complex trauma via the simplest of means. I want to help them become unbroken, to see them reshape their life, creating a new one with zest and enthusiasm which empowers them to not only help themselves going forward but to help others too. It doesn’t matter what the problem or past trauma may be, there's always a solution and once you’re committed to thinking outside the box. Together with help from the local community, you can help make the impossible, possible.
The future is looking bright as Men-Talk grows and diversifies, expanding its awareness campaign services, integrating mental health champions into gyms, workplaces and colleges, partnering with even more local businesses and service providers, and reaching out through greater use of technology.
“Our next projects are about raising awareness and we’re hoping to start work on some hard-hitting two-minute films to prevent self-harm and suicide. We’re currently looking for support to film, edit and get the project off the ground if anyone wants to help.”
And so with Men-Talk, Fem-Talk and Teen-Talk, the community brand continues to offer a safe place to talk, encouraging and empowering through group meeting and one-to-one support, either face-to-face or online. If anyone would wish to volunteer or become a sponsor then all help is gratefully appreciated. If there is anything they can help you with then please feel free to get in contact through the facebook Men-Talk or Fem-Talk page.