Bryony Gordon’s initiative to help people ‘Find Your We’ reaches two-year milestone
On 14 February 2016, Bryony Gordon set out on her first organised walk, not knowing how many people would meet her in response to her earlier call-out on social media. That day, 20 people turned out to share their experiences of life and mental health, and Mental Health Mates was firmly established.
Mental Health Mates was born out of “a terrible funk” Bryony was going through as she was writing Mad Girl, a memoir about her mental health. A documentary she was listening to while out running one day, inspired her to help bring together groups of people who were feeling alone and struggling with their mental health too.
Hearing the words “Everyone is part of a We except me”, from Carson McCullers, an author who had experienced depression and alcoholism, stopped Bryony in her running shoes. Her response was that Carson did belong to a “we”, she just didn’t know it. Bryony's response ignited the spark of an idea, which became Mental Health Mates.
Over the past two years, Mental Health Mates has “grown beyond her wildest dreams” and is now run by a dedicated group of volunteers with walk leaders up and down the country. There are over 55 Mental Health Mates walk locations in the UK, 3,900 members of the Mental Health Mates group on Facebook, and an active community on Twitter. There are also meet ups in New York, San Francisco and Dubai.
"We live such fractured, busy lives, with our heads in our phones, just getting on – but we need these face-to-face moments to talk”
“The fact that Mental Health Mates has grown so much just shows that there is a real need for this stuff – people want to connect,” says Bryony, as we chat ahead of the Mental Health Mates anniversary next week. “We live such fractured, busy lives, with our heads in our phones, just getting on – but we need these face-to-face moments to talk.”
Bryony credits everyone involved in the work of Mental Health Mates for its ongoing success and ability to reach out to a growing group of people. “I may have had the original idea, but it’s a real team effort,” she says. “The team have moved Mental Health Mates forward in the past two years with such passion. People I didn’t know back then have now become really close friends. It’s amazing.”
Both Bryony’s and Mental Health Mates’ use of social media has been important in spreading the word about the walks and recruiting walk leaders. Bryony believes that social media can be used as a platform for good, and encourages everyone to use it to reach out and join the conversation about mental health.
As we finish up our chat, I ask Bryony what she would say to someone who is experiencing a difficult time and wants to join a walk, but is struggling?
“I would say: do the thing that you think you can’t do. 99% of the time, the worst that can happen has already happened in your mind,” says Bryony. “I promise you that your bed and home will still be there when you return from the walk – but the boost you will get out of coming along and talking with others who can relate to what you’re going through, it’s incredible. Take a leap into the unknown.”
Join the Mental Health Mates second anniversary walk in London’s Hyde Park this Sunday 11th Feb at 11am (meeting at the Serpentine Bar & Kitchen, by the outdoor picnic tables at the back). Register via Eventbrite.
Find out more about upcoming Mental Health Mates walks