How a project in Bristol is creating safe spaces for men to talk

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Male suicide is on the increase and one local Bristol project is trying to raise awareness of it.

Wellbeans CIC runs workshops and events promoting mental health and are focusing on issues affecting men.

Their mission is to create an environment where men contemplating suicide can be identified early, by offering comfortable spaces for sharing and making conversation.

 

Male suicides have consistently accounted for approximately three-quarters of all suicides in the UK since the mid-1990s. Of late there has been an increasing degree of projects challenging the stigma, and helping men to talk about mental health.

Evidence indicates that men feel more comfortable talking in environments that are less clinical, one being on the football field.

Wellbeans has teamed up with Bristol Rovers Community Trust and Off the Record to make it easier for men to talk. They are running a series of events, including a recent fun day on Saturday June 8.

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Liz Andrews from Bristol who set up the Wellbeans initiative to raise awareness of mental health through social events and networking

The founder of Wellbeans, therapist Liz Andrews said: “Football can be a very empowering way of reaching the people who remain hesitant to ask for help for fear of looking weak. There is a stigma and discrimination that exists, one which I see through my work as a therapist.”

“We are proud that Bristol Rovers Community Trust are working in association with us, helping to raise awareness of male suicide, being part of our “improving good mental health through sport initiative.”

The fun day itself saw many men with mental issues turn up and play, and their families take part in the range of other activities available.

One such man was Simon Oliveira who has worked extensively to deal with his anxiety and depression that has led him to have suicidal thoughts.

He says Wellbeans saved his life.

He said: “They helped me to look at things in a different perspective, identifying my weaknesses and developing them into strengths.

“Without their help, I wouldn’t be able to achieve the things I have today.”

Simon’s mental health got so bad at one point, that he felt like he didn’t want to go on.

He stated : “I have had times where I felt that I am unworthy of this world, being on the verge of giving up, throwing all my potential away because of things that had affected me in the past.

“I felt that I wasn’t accepted, I felt I was blamed for things that I hadn’t appeared to had done.

“I felt different to everyone else around me.”

 

Change started to happen for Simon when he attended Open Dialogue Therapy, a Wellbeans initiative, something which he concedes wasn’t easy, but started to bring some hope and understanding.

“I had some very difficult conversations, and some life changing situations.

“I had strict guidelines to follow, learnt many different techniques and gained a lot of experience in how to maintain and remain healthy,” he said.

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Simon Oliveira says working with Wellbeans has helped save his life (Image: Wellbeans)

Football has always been a big thing for Simon, and he once had dreams of being a professional goalkeeper.

So events like football fun days that Wellbeans put out on are particularly helpful, he said: “Yes football is therapy to me, and things like this are great to let off steam.”

Bristol Rovers Community Trust manager Matt Bennett recognises the role that football can play in the prevention of suicide in men, “Yes its vital to help normalise issues for men.

“Things like today are important because it gets men talking, before it reaches crisis point. Having fun in a normal environment.

“So today was a was a fantastic event, happy, friendly, atmosphere. Good to get people talking and socialising with a great mix of people.”

Prevention being better than cure is key to the vision of Liz and WellBeans, she explained: “With events like this and the right support I am convinced so many men would not have taken their own lives.

“Some things we cannot change, but let’s honour these people by creating an open compassionate culture.

“A mental health that has no barriers, where people feel they can express themselves.”

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Football team at Wellbeans male Suicide prevention day (Image: Wellbeans)

 

For participants like Simon, brave enough to share his story, he hopes others will follow suit and be willing to be open, share their pain, as early as they can. In fact he himself would like to support others too.

“If I could predict my future, my biggest achievement would to be able to help people, the way I was helped, and be able to help people change for the future,” he said.

The next event that the Wellbeans team is involved with is on June 26 at the Memorial Stadium, home of Bristol Rovers, where there will be an employment forum, supporting organisations to see warning signs, and how to create a happier and healthier workplace.

What can you do if you feel you are in crisis?

Most people who are thinking of taking their own life have shown warning signs beforehand.

These can include becoming depressed, showing sudden changes in behaviour, talking about wanting to die and feelings of hopelessness. 

These feelings do improve and can be treated.

If you are concerned about someone, or need help yourself, please contact the Samaritans on 116 123.

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