The collaboration between five organisations aims to support men from deprived areas with their mental health
According to the Men’s Health Forum, three out of four suicides are by men, 12.5% of men live with a mental health disorder, and men are three times more likely than women to become alcohol dependent.
One thing’s for sure: we need to be talking about men’s mental health. And that’s exactly what Offload – a new Big Lottery funded initiative – is doing.
After recognising that 88% of rugby players, and 30% of those who engage with the sport, are from England’s top 20% most deprived areas – Offload saw an opportunity to reach some of those who are most at risk of developing long-term mental health problems.
A collaboration between five organisations, Offload is offering a space for men from deprived areas to get together to learn ‘mental fitness’ techniques from professional rugby league players and coaches at the top of their game.
Working closely with experts in men’s health, Offload has created a 10-step programme that equips participants with evidence-based tools and techniques to support their wellbeing.
Structured in two 40 minutes halves – the first half featuring stories from others, the second half dedicated to having fun and ‘offloading’ – the areas covered include mindfulness, stress management, emotional resilience, challenging negative thinking, anger management, work-life balance, and more.
Ian is one man who has been benefiting from the programme. Having lived with depression for several years, Ian often found himself feeling both physically and mentally exhausted. As a ‘lifelong rugby fan’ Ian found himself drawn to the courses that Offload were offering, and so decided to sign up.
“That was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” says Ian. “Offload has made a huge difference in my life, it’s been inspirational and given me new coping mechanisms to deal with my illness and live my life to the full.”
For Ian, the ‘fixtures’ quickly became the highlight of his week – offering him the opportunity to talk about his experiences with other men, and learn coping techniques from players and coaches he admires.
Reflecting on the impact Offload has had on him and others, Ian explains how the experience has taught him about the many ways that individuals can experience depression, how it touches people at all stages in their life, but also – and most importantly – that with the right support system, it is possible to loosen its grip on your life.
“We have learned so much about ourselves, and each other, through the power of Rugby League,” says Ian. “It’s been an absolute pleasure to be involved and I hope it becomes a permanent fixture across the whole sport.”
For so many people, sport offers us the unique opportunity to come together over a shared interested. And, so often, those shared interests form the first step to building the trust and friendship we need to begin opening up. With the power of community, friendship, and communication, Offload are reaching the people who are so often sidelined in the wellbeing conversation, and is putting the spotlight on the ways we can work together to raise each other up.
Photography | John Ledger, Bob Brough & Derek York