In January 2018, Frazer Longford’s friend decided to take his own life. He wasn’t the first friend to do so, he was the third. This had a big effect on Frazer and he struggled to come to terms with it, he wanted to understand why it happened to so many men, what had motivated them? He wondered why blokes don’t open up and ask for help.
Frazer described poor mental health as, "an illness that makes the mind fuzzy, by talking you’re clearing the clouds"
“It was whilst discussing this on my journey to work with my car share buddy, vocalising my thoughts, that I figured out I wanted to help men - friends and colleagues, who might be struggling, I wanted to reach out and say ‘look whatever you’re going through, I’m here for you’.”
It was a brave step that Frazer took next - he booked a meeting room at work and invited all the men along at 9:15am one morning. “All the men turned up, wondering what was going on, and I stood up and told my story, shared my experiences and said just that…‘whatever you’re going through I’m here for you’.”
Jason Cotton was one of the men in the meeting room that morning. “What Frazer said really resonated with me, I’d struggled with my mental health, I’d had similar experiences where people close to me had taken their own lives, leaving me and the people around them without answers and what Frazer did fired me up to do something.”
Frazer and Jason decided they’d book a meeting room, again at work, and invite men to come along to a safe space where they could talk. They put up posters in the lifts and the gents' and walked round talking to people. Jason admitted “I found this really awkward, it was difficult to broach the subject with men and talk to them about their mental health and emotions, I could sense the tension as we approached, there was a lot of stigma around the whole subject. Whereas Frazer seemed much more comfortable”.
Around 20 people attended that first session; Frazer and Jason had no training or experience but wanted to help men talk. They kicked off the session with no plan and no idea how to run the session.
“Looking back at the first session, it was a little clinical”, explained Jason, “but we’ve learned and adapted along the way. At the session Frazer told his story again, to the group of men sitting around a meeting table. We developed a confidentiality rule, what’s said in the room, stays in the room, which we reiterate at each session – and people opened up.”
“We want to provide men with a space where they can speak and express themselves, or where they can just listen to others and say nothing. For some people just hearing from others who’ve been there helps. There’s absolutely no pressure to speak, there are no expectations.”
After 14 months running sessions at work, Frazer and Jason have recently expanded to offer the same style sessions at Stonegravels Parish Centre.
Jason explained, “the sessions are for men over 18, there’s no need to book you can just turn up, there’s no need for an appointment and they’re free of charge. People can stay as long as they want to stay, some people leave after 30 minutes if they have other commitments, other people stay much longer. We welcome everyone who arrives, but they don’t have to introduce themselves, there’s no register… people are met with a handshake, a cup of tea, coffee, biscuits and snacks.
"We have six people welcoming men as they arrive; Frazer Longford, Jason Cotton, Lisa Longford, Francesca Whyld, Rebecca Tustin and Trisha Black, women who’ve been affected by men, in their lives, who have committed suicide. The women are sometimes invited to talk at the beginning of the session, to provide another perspective, but then leave and the men talk amongst themselves. At the session connections form, based on shared experiences, the people in the room tend to pick up on something said by someone else, something that resonates with them, and offer their own perspective.
“We have had young men who’ve lost parents, men who’ve suffered relationship or family breakdowns, men struggling with financial problems, divorce, abuse, addiction. The reasons people come are wide and varied, everyone is welcome – the sessions are simply for men who are struggling to cope and want some support and someone to talk to.”
Frazer described poor mental health as, “an illness that makes the mind fuzzy. By talking you’re clearing the clouds, it can help you see things with some clarity. If you don’t clear the clouds, it will get worse and worse.”
Jason describes how the atmosphere in the room changes from the beginning of the sessions. “We’ve seen men arrive in tears but leave looking as though a cloud has lifted, feeling lighter and less weighed down. This is just by talking, being listened to, and sharing time and space with other people who understand.”
“Coming along to a session can be a turning point for people, it’s a really big and brave step to take and we recognise that. We do everything we can to make sure people feel comfortable and to offer support. We’re not counsellors, therapists or medical in any way, we’re just two guys who have experienced what people are going through, who want to support other people, to have positive impact on their mental health and stop people feeling the only option is to commit suicide.”
The next Stonegravels session is on 13 June at 7pm.
You can find out more on the facebook page: Men-Talk.
Men-Talk will also have a stall at Chesterfield Pride this year on Sunday 21 July.