COMMUNITY ORGANISATION AWARD FOR GENDER
Men Tell Health is a male-focussed mental health Community Interest Company. Their aim is to reduce male suicide and to help men understand, manage and accept their own mental well-being. They do this differently to almost everyone else. They do it in the way they talk about mental health, initially by using humour to destigmatise and to engage. This extraordinary organisation is the brainchild of Gary Pollard who lives with PTSD, depression and acute anxiety. What started out as a blog expanded to fill a major gap for men struggling and looking for help, creating a site that talked to people like a friend would, not like parents or Doctors. Men Tell Health are now the only men-specific mental health organisation in the region of Teesside, running three different types of men-only groups including SpeakEasy, PopStart, and ReBoot. Their life changing work has not gone unnoticed.
We spoke with Gary Pollard, Chief Executive at Men Tell Health after they won The Community Organisation Award for Gender at The National Diversity Awards 2017. Here’s what he had to say:
What were your thoughts on the other shortlisted nominees within your category?
At the beginning of the night, my wife had asked me if I’d wrote a speech for if Men Tell Health won. I told her I hadn’t and wouldn’t need one. Part of the reason I didn’t write one was because I’d read all about the other shortlisted nominees in our category. How could we possible compete with the fantastic work they were all doing. Colouring Outside The Lines in particular struck a chord with my wife and I, as we are waiting for a autism diagnosis for our son, but they all looked like winners to me. Reading more about the 7 nominees in the brochure only further convinced me that we were going to go home empty-handed (well, apart from the goody bag and certificate!)
I think it would have been easy to think that, with 6 of the 7 other nominees focussing on women’s issues, and obviously we’re a men’s mental health organisation, that were would be ‘Battle of the Sexes’ undertones or that we stood out as different. I don’t think organisations that are defined by the gender or demographics they work with are as far apart as people think. There is always an opportunity to work together and I’d welcome the opportunity. I’m a big believer in strength in numbers.
What were your thoughts after winning The Community Organisation Award for Gender?
I think my first thoughts were a mixture of disbelief and bewilderment. It was incredible achievement to win, especially as an organisation, we’re only 18 months old. Also, when we had such amazing nominees in our category, to receive the honour of winning felt so special. It felt like a blur walking up to the stage, seeing our winners video out of the corner of my eye and then to receive the award felt thoroughly surreal. I didn’t get back to my seat for 40 minutes! I felt like quite the celebrity getting interviewed and photoshoots.
Once I came back down to earth, I just felt immensely proud. Proud of everyone who helped us reach this point in our short life and proud that the work we’re doing was recognised on a national level.
What reaction have you received from supporters/fellow employees since winning the award?
Everyone has been buzzing since we won. The reaction we received has been overwhelmingly positive. As an organisation, we are very open with our community, both physically and virtually across our social media platforms so being able to share the news with all of them was an incredible feeling. It was only a shame we couldn’t have taken them all to the event and shared the experience that I had.
Now that you have won a National Diversity Award, what are you going to go from here? What are your next steps?
Winning the award has given us all a fresh impetus. We’re looking to expand our network of SpeakEasy’s, our men-only support groups, across the UK. We’re also looking to grow our group specifically for Dad’s which we call PopStart.
We have so many ideas, but like so many organisations like ours, we’re stifled by lack of funds. We’re working hard to become less reliant on funds and grants and are planning to become more self-sustaining. We want to build relationships with other organisations to combine our specialities and knowledge to help people improve their own mental health and wellbeing.
In your own words, how do you feel the work you are carrying out is making a difference?
When it comes to men’s mental health, most organisations don’t think any further than the ‘It’s OK to talk’ message. Whilst there’s value in that of course, I don’t believe that men are seeing those messages and thinking ‘Is it really? Great. I didn’t know’. Men know it’s ok to talk already, but don’t always have the support, the space or the environment where they feel able to do so. Whether that’s because of stigma, self-stigma, pride, shame, shyness, masculinity, societal or cultural pressures, or whatever it is. Offices in mental health services aren’t conducive to those conversations, neither are Doctor’s surgeries. We work incredibly hard to offer them that space and create an environment that respects who they are and, more importantly, respects their masculinity. We know it can be hard, but give them every opportunity to witness how much it will help at first hand. Our groups are peer-led. We use things like sport, music, movies, comedy as a catalyst to start those conversations. Guys who come to our groups don’t have to pay, there are no forms for them to fill in and no pressure to talk. We know it’s working because they tell us it is. This approach makes life difficult for me as Chief Exec because we don’t have the qualitative or quantitative data to support funding bids, but it’s an approach that’s working and we won’t change it.
Men Tell Health is proud to do men’s mental health differently, because we believe different is exactly what’s needed. Around 75% of people who take their own live are men, but around 75% of those people have never had any contact with mental health services. They’re just guys trying to deal with everything modern life throws at us and sadly, in many cases, not dealing with it. Mental ill-health isn’t just about a diagnosis of one condition, it’s about all aspects of life, whether that’s work, money, relationships so we continually work on giving them the tools to manage their wellbeing their way. One that respects who they are as individuals.
Why do you think it is important to highlight Diversity, Equality and Inclusion?
I think as we all become more connected through technology and social media, there is a real opportunity to be exposed to the societal divisions that some people and some organisations are striving to promote. We simply can’t let this happen. We’re always going to be stronger together. Being able to highlight the great work through the National Diversity Awards, much of which will go unnoticed by the mainstream, is vital to bring people from all cultures, colours, creeds, faiths and sexuality together, not just on their phones or tablets, but in real life. The opportunity to showcase who we are as people and how we can work together to create a better world shouldn’t be under-estimated. There are so many people doing so much amazing work on shoestring budgets, with skeleton staff or simply pushing on alone. Just imagine how much good we could do by bringing those people together. Treating each other as equals, as people.
Who or What is your inspiration?
I’m inspired every day by everyone around me. My wife is amazing and seems able to juggle far more balls than I could ever dream of doing. The people I work with, those I connect with over social media and the guys who come to the groups are genuinely inspiring. Seeing them develop and grow, getting themselves into a better state of mind has to be seen to be believed.
What were your thoughts on The National Diversity Awards Ceremony? Did you enjoy your evening?
It was simply incredible. I think it was the most inspiring place I’ve ever been. Everyone was so friendly and supportive of each other. I met so many fantastic people who themselves are all doing amazing work in their own fields. The venue was stunning, lit beautifully and just looking around made you feel special. All credit to the team from the National Diversity Awards, I Spoil U Media and of course the guys from Horseradish who looked after us all. My wife and I were buzzing for days after and are still talking about it! Genuinely, it was a night we’ll never forget and I would have felt exactly the same had we not won.
I don’t know if we’ll ever get the opportunity to experience it again, but I will treasure the memories we made.
SHARING IS CARING!