14 weeks from now it will all be over. The third and (hopefully) final lockdown will have ended and people everywhere can rejoice in the notion that they can, if they wish, shake hands, high five, hug, kiss, hold, and embrace others from outside their immediate family, or chosen bubble, once again.
It will no doubt be a joyous, long awaited occasion, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the hazy springtime sun will make an appearance to add some warmth and colour to the occasion. All will seem suddenly right with the world again.
But for many people, men in particular, the end of lockdown might put them on a collision course with dangerous bad habits and push them back into a now alien society that they’ve been sheltered from for over a year.
Nearly four in ten (38%) men surveyed by YouGov and Jacamo say they have noticed a negative effect on their mental health since going into lockdown last March. Feedback from 1,920 Samaritans charity volunteers – who have been taking calls throughout lockdown – has also revealed that poorer middle-aged men are the group most at risk of suicide during the current Covid-19 crisis, with a third of the 7,000 requests they receive every day relating directly to the pandemic.
One outstanding lifeline for many men through the last 12 months has been the MenCheck-in online daily men’s groups, brainchild of personal development consultant Kenny Mammarella-D’Cruz, which celebrates its first anniversary on the exact same day that England went into its first National lockdown on 23rd March 2020.
It was back in March of 2020, just as sight of the first lockdown appeared that Kenny Mammarella-D’Cruz set up the MenCheck-in groups after recognising that these sessions would become a key way to keep men sane and families safe during times of social isolation.
The MenCheck-in online group sessions have been attended thousands of times over the three lockdowns and have helped men become more able to deal with their displaced emotions, by speaking things out rather than lashing out on others, or over-thinking and getting into depression, suppression and suicidal thoughts and feelings.
The meetings began as lunchtime, by-donation bitesize events, and now nearly 365 days and over 500 groups later, Kenny has created an engaged online community that provides social medicine for group participants, where men can share their situations and stories, the can be heard, learn from one another’s experiences and simply belong. Something that Kenny himself yearned for almost two decades ago.
“It was 20 years ago and I was travelling, I’d worked with dying people with Mother Theresa in India, I lived in Fiji, and when I came back to the UK I really missed my friends, but they were distracted by money, power, drink, drugs and partying, and I basically said where are you?! I don't know what a men's group is. I'm starting a men's group now - I need to be met at some depth!”
At these groups men are empowered by listening to others who are going through similar situations, amongst peers, without having to navigate pecking orders, experts, bigots or boisterous behaviour. With no pressure to speak and no-one telling others what to do or how to fix their lives, men have a safe online space to hang out, be heard and get real, taking the edge of their lockdown situations and often against all odds, grow as self-aware, able men.
Kenny is confident that once lockdown ends and men are free to resume their own version of a normal life, they will continue to attend the daily sessions to ground themselves and remember what’s important, as they venture back into the world and potentially back into old habits.
“The sessions allow men to be in the company of good men without the need to drink or be in the surroundings of a pub or bar. In a place where there’s no need to compete, where men can become more of who they are rather than who they should be”
Kenny considers mental health to be a highly gendered issue. “In general, men prefer side-by-side communication, and tend to avoid clinical language and settings,” he says.
“Sessions are traditionally held in clinical rooms and swanky offices, but now, because MenCheck-ins happen online, it’s much more personable. People feel more comfortable in their own surroundings, and therefore safer and easier to share their feelings and explore their lives, their motives and even their pasts.”
Essentially, a MenCheck-in is a great space to share whatever is on your mind, release some pressure and connect with others in a welcoming, confidential, and non-clinical space.
It’s simply a men’s group, not limited to being a mental health support group, which allows for other needs to be met, like needs for connection, community, growth as an authentic man and having a good laugh. "We aim at early prevention of mental health issues. If a man has nowhere to share the small stuff or 'just hang out' before he knows it he could be facing bigger problems down the line." Mammarella-D'Cruz says.
For Kenny it’s simple “We want these groups to be as available as 12-step programmes such as Alcoholics Anonymous and feel as normal a routine for men as heading to the gym for a workout or the pub to wind down.”
Echoing those sentiments, MenCheck-in group regular Bertie Harriman-Smith explains “The groups are essential for me for maintaining my sanity and remembering what life is really about… I can chat, hang out, laugh, talk about real issues and feel connected in such a disconnected and chaotic time. I’ve checked in while I’ve been dangerously on the edge and I’ve also shown up for good company with nothing in particular up at all.”
These mini-men's groups are currently running online every day, Mon-Sat 12.30pm-1.30pm, Sun 10.30am-11.30am, and you can donate however much you like towards the running of the online MenCheck-Ins.
Recently, MenCheck-ins big brother MenSpeak celebrated accreditation of all facilitation training sessions, meaning that anyone of any gender can become a group facilitator. The trainings are led by founder, Kenny, who shares the knowledge and experience he’s gleaned from two decades, the world over, in facilitating groups.
Additionally, you can grab yourself a copy of Kenny’s No.1 best-selling ebook Online Men’s Group Success: A step-by-step guide to facilitating personal development groups for men here. Kenny will launch an online training program in November (Movember).