I’ve been a part of Shifties for approximately 18 months or so. They help to enable business owners to connect, learn, and grow with their businesses together.
The team, especially Alex Hughes, have been so supportive in both myself and ‘For Men To Talk’ and what we are trying to achieve throughout that period.
Over the last year, Alex, with the help of experts, have set out a number of tasks to improve us as entrepreneurs and small business owners. Tasks such as ‘Social Media Training’, ‘Meditation’ and ‘Expand Your Network’.
I always want to participate in these exercises. I want to learn and I want to improve, both as a person and as a director of a company. Apart from the ‘Early Riser’ task of waking up at 5am, that’s a bit too far for me!
The latest task was the ‘Launch Challenge’. Giving the members of Shifties a chance to launch a new business, service or product. At that time, I had already launched ‘For Men To Talk’ and I didn’t want to launch another business.
I needed a product. But what could I do? I needed something to support ‘For Men To Talk’.
Every since I was a child, I was fascinated by the Mr. Men books. I used to love my parents reading them to me, until I could read them myself and I love reading them now to my own children. The books are a series of brightly coloured, boldly drawn illustrations and introduces a different title character, with a different personality trait with a different a simple moral lesson in each book.
Six months previously to the start of the ‘Launch Challenge’, I used my love of the Mr. Men books and designed two cartoon moles, one with a bowler hat and one slightly smaller. I accompanied the moles and wrote a 4 page storyboard where the moles talked about different mental health illnesses and posted them on social media channels every Monday. All of a sudden I had around 20 different storyboards and I realised that this was my product!
Over the coming weeks, I researched, wrote and designed further stories, filled with topics, such as anxiety, depression, grief, social media, stress, sleep and many more, combining to make a total of 52 storyboards.
I have always asked questions, about anything. If I don’t know something, I am not afraid to find out the answer by asking, especially in business and in this scenario, a product launch. I had virtual meetings with a book publisher, printers and a proof reader to make sure that I had everything I need to make sure that my book would be at the best that it could be.
So right now I am very proud to announce that The Mental Health Moles book is OUT NOW. It is available:
During the ‘For Men To Talk’ group meetings on Wednesdays, many of the attendees express the importance in them spending time outdoors in nature. It has been found to help with mental health problems including anxiety and depression. The photos you see are also taken by them.
Here are just some of their comments:
“Mostly, it quietens down the ‘noise’ in my mind of overthinking/worrying about stuff. It usually takes at least 20 minutes of activity, then my brain goes into reset mode and I just enjoy the fresh air and scenery.
On a bigger scale, I enjoy the countryside, knowing I didn’t have any control over this world being formed but get to enjoy it’s beauty, it gives me some perspective on things.”
“The best way to describe it is that it resets my mood. If you think of a computer that is just not running right. You turn it off, then turn it back on. Then things go back to normal.”
“If I was to put it crudely, it puts a wedge between me and my thoughts. It reminds me that I’m still alive if I am struggling.”
“It allows me to reset and to feel real again. It allows me to talk with my wife, without being interrupted by the kids.”
‘For Men To Talk’ is very proud to stand with CPSL Mind in their STOP Suicide campaign. For the next foreseeable months, you will see their logo on the ‘For Men To Talk’ group meeting posters and other marketing material.
STOP Suicide is an award-winning suicide prevention campaign that seeks to empower communities and individuals across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to help stop suicides by being alert to the warning signs, asking directly about suicide and helping those who are feeling suicidal to stay safe.
It focusses on encouraging men to open up about their mental health experiences and encourage others to ask openly and directly if they are worried that someone may be at risk.
An estimated one in five of us has had suicidal thoughts at some point in our lives.
Three-quarters of suicides in the UK are by men.
Seventy per cent of people who die by suicide have not been in contact with mental health services in the year before their death.
The single biggest group remains middle aged men.
Suicide rates in younger men have been incrementally increasing in recent years.
This is a Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and South Lincolnshire Mind (CPSL Mind) campaign, funded by Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council.
As a Community Interest Company, ‘For Men To Talk’ has a commitment to be a benefit to the community, with a particular focus on supporting men’s mental health. As the company grows to fulfil its social purpose to help as many men as possible, it needs to grow internally too.
Today Luke Newman, the founder of ‘For Men To Talk’, is honoured to announce that he has put in place a ‘Board of Directors’.
“The board will discuss and advise on key strategic and operational decisions”, said Luke. “It will also ensure that the company meets its statutory obligations. I have appointed three Non-Executive Directors, each with amazing personal qualities to help me and ‘For Men To Talk’ to reach our full potential. With this newly appointed strong leadership, I am excited about what the future will bring.”
The Appointed Non-Executive Directors are:
James Dunn, who works in a fast-paced, high-performing role in London. He is an advocate of talking and listening about the topic of men’s mental health and has been an attendee of the ‘For Men To Talk’ group meetings since they were founded.
Ian Payne, recognises the importance of communication and counselling from his own mental health experiences, as well as the experience of others. He is a strong advocate of looking after ourselves both physically and mentally.
Justin Leigh is a highly experienced Business Leader & Executive Coach with over twenty-five years’ experience in sales and leadership. Justin has founded the Cambridgeshire branch of a charitable group ‘Walk & Talk 4 Men’. Just is a passionate supporter of men’s mental health and is proud to help men find the help they need, when they need it.
Many of us are struggling to maintain our mental well-being during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. We maybe experiencing difficult feelings and emotions, it could be about the government restrictions, losing loved ones to the virus, or even yourself getting sick.
But we all have monthly payments such as rent or mortgage and utility bills to pay, so many of us continue to work, if we can. But our worries will continue and this can lead into an increase of anxiety at work.
High-functioning anxiety is commonly known at work. If refers to workers who live with anxiety but identify as functioning reasonably well in different aspects of their life. For instance, behind every perfect presentation and flawless project could be a huge mountain of worries.
A member of staff, who is impeccably dressed, not a hair out of place and may arrive in the office before anyone. They will look immaculate and ready for the day ahead.
They may look driven, committed, ready to complete any task and never miss a deadline. Their diary is full, but always willing to help others when asked. Nobody would ever believe something was wrong, because they always portrayed themselves as being fine.
What those co-workers might not know is that beneath the surface of that seemingly perfect exterior and work ethic, that person maybe fighting a constant case of anxiety. Their nervous energy could be a fear of failure, fear of not being good enough and even about losing their job. It drives them to try and be the best in every aspect of their working life.
If these characteristics sound familiar to someone at work, or even yourself, let’s look at what you might experience or what you may observe if you have high functioning anxiety.
Signs You’re an Overachiever/Perfectionist
Characteristics of people with high functioning anxiety that are often thought of as positive include:
Has an outgoing personality. Is happy happy, a joke teller and smiles and laughs frequently.
Punctual. Being able to complete a required task or fulfil an obligation before or at a previously designated time.
Proactive. Will plan ahead for all possibilities. As Benjamin Franklin said “By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail”.
Organised. Making lists or keeping calendars. Planning things carefully and keeping things tidy in all aspects of their work.
High achieving. Being dynamic, ambitious and being as successful as you can.
Detail-oriented. Being able to pay close attention and notice minor details. Giving a task undivided attention and catch mistakes or errors.
Active and helpful. For instances, always volunteers for the coffee run.
Appears outwardly calm and collected.
Passionate, pursue it daily with a mixture of enthusiasm and discipline.
Loyal. Sacrificing time and interest to put more energy into work.
Signs of Negative Characteristics
Characteristics of people with high functioning anxiety that are often thought of as negatives include:
A people pleaser. Being afraid of driving people away, fear of being a bad friend, spouse, and employee and fear of letting others down.
Talking a lot, including nervous ‘chatter’.
Nervous habits, such as playing with hair, cracking knuckles and biting lip.
The need to do repetitive things, such as counting stairs or rocking back and forth.
Overthinking. Thinking too much about your problems, mistakes or shortcomings
Lost time, like arriving too early for appointments)
The need for reassurance, making sure an employer is happy with their work.
Procrastination. Delaying an important task, usually by focusing on less urgent, more enjoyable and easier activities.
Avoiding eye contact
Inability to say ‘No’. Always having an overloaded schedule, being constantly busy
Insomnia. Difficulty falling asleep or waking early and being unable to fall back asleep.
Being found to be ‘difficult to read’, such as unemotional or cold.
A limited social life. Turning down invitations to afterwork activities.
The inability to ‘enjoy the moment’ and being unable to relax.
The tendency to compare yourself to co-workers. A feeling of falling short of expectations.
Mental and physical fatigue
If you’re concerned about yourself or a colleague and have decided to say something. Your options could be:
See what support may be available from your employer.
Confide in a colleague you can trust.
If you see someone in distress or behaving out of character, take them aside discreetly and ask if they’re OK or if you can help.
Seek professional help, from a doctor or other professional if things are particularly tough.
I work in a fast paced, high performing cultured job whereby the standards of my peers and stakeholders were alot higher to what I ever experienced before. I had been in this role for 3 years prior and seemed to have managed to keep my head above water and hid things very well from my peers and management. Despite having an 18 month old daughter and life was good, I could feel that there was always a dark cloud following me around and I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what the problem was.
During November 2019 suddenly things took a turn for the worse. Leading up to Christmas is our company’s ‘Year End’ and work and expectations were ramping up rapidly. I am a very organised individual, this is where my OCD comes into play, and I acknowledge the traits I have is a part of me. I’ve been told by successful work colleagues and directors that “this isn’t a bad thing and makes you good at your job”. Whilst this validation is reassuring, it can also be a curse having to check work thoroughly and keep on top of lists and emails. It is tiring and exhausting but its part of my DNA, as a few family members share these traits.
Suddenly work was getting on top of me and I felt like I was losing control. This led me to suffer mild panic attacks and many sleepless nights. I am generally a very open person and very social, but things were changing, I didn’t want to see friends or family. I am not one for climbing the career ladder or earn a high salary, this wasn’t important, I just wanted to be content in myself and stay positive. What was important in mind was to provide for my family and be comfortable. My wife was heavily pregnant at this time, so subconsciously there were more pressures to add into the mix.
At the start of 2020, work was still at the forefront of my mind and I had adopted a ‘tunnel vision’ approach to life, predominantly work. The anxieties grew more and more and the feeling of nervousness of refreshing emails in the morning and attending important meetings and problem solving became overwhelming. These thoughts were completely disguised from my bosses and relevant teams. To them all, it seemed that I had it all together and confident in what I did in my work.
As we approached February 2020, a critical time of the working year, it’s during these dark winter hours which triggers my mood to worsen and nothing would lift me out of this slump, I felt that life was moving at 100mph, with the incoming news of a house move and my wife being pregnant with our second child.
I’m very fortunate that my wife recognised the change in my mood patterns and was so supportive, despite being very heavily pregnant and having a toddler, who is a little dynamo running around the place!
By chance or fate or whatever you believe in, I noticed a social media post titled ‘For Men to Talk’, discussing anxiety, grief and depression, things I believe I have encountered at some stage during my life. My wife also heard about this group from her friend and strongly encouraged me to go and see whether this would help.
My family had always had that approach of keeping a lid on things and have the stiff upper lip but I felt that I could express myself openly and honestly as I can.
‘For Men to Talk’ was having a group meeting at a local cafe. I am normally a very social and interactive person but I had doubts, I didn’t know anybody, what would people think if they knew and where is my life heading? Upon walking in to the cafe, those feelings dispatched almost immediately and I was amongst men who were had the commonality of suffering any of these mental health issues. The group had 20+ guys and I didn;t feel alone. A huge burden had lifted, but then almost overnight, the global pandemic hit us all.
It was at this time, life morphed into something completely different and I was at a real crossroads in my life. My colleague had decided to move to Australia and this in turn left me with even more work. My anxieties went to an all time high, worrying about the ramifications of her departure and how this would affect my working life.
From these chain of events, it overshadowed the offer of a new house being accepted and the birth of our son, two monumental occasions in life, being overridden by my worries of work and how I would cope.
Fortunately, the ‘For Men to Talk’ weekly meetings were moved virtually, communicating online would become the new normal, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. The founder, Luke, had an incredibly moving story, but has always been open with his journey, unlike most men, and that’s why he formed the group.
It was something I was craving for. It was a safe space for all us men to talk about how we felt and sharing the highs and lows of the week. This was a great initiative and it felt good getting things off my chest and not being judged for anything I said or did.
As the group gathered momentum, it was clear that more men were struggling with different things in their lives as well as lockdown. Luke has an amazing quality of being a superb host and bringing everyone together and should be applauded on this. The regulars would come and revisit and now a year on I can really see the benefit in everyone, as well as myself. There have been times whereby the stories have become so moving it has been emotional and we can all pat ourselves on the back for making this first step and that we are not alone.
I have benefitted whereby this has become a important part of the week and have met some wonderful people in the process. I have made a few necessary changes to improve my mental health by finishing work at my scheduled times and really putting my friends and family higher in my priorities.
I am fascinated by people and love to see how the dynamics work in a group. There is such a diverse group of men and I’m sure that I can speak on behalf of all of them to say it has helped them as much as it has helped me. We are now talking to people not only in the country but across the pond in the USA. It’s a very therapeutic thing to listen to the stories and humbling at the same time.
I would like to personally thank Luke and ‘For Men to Talk’ and long may it continue with your hard work and dedication to help men open up. It does help to talk.
The 24th February 2020 is a date that will be forever etched in my memory, it is a date that sticks, like a birth, a celebration, a promotion or a date of significance. For me, this is the date when I was going to end my life.
I had not planned this course of action, the day started like most. The same routine: get up, wake up, get feed, washed, dressed etc. It was an overcast day but that was expected in February. Now if am totally honest when looking back, I was not in a great place, but at the time I didn’t realize it at the time.
Various things had been going on in my life. Work and home was incredibly stressful. We all have our problems to deal with, some people deal with them better than others. In my case I had not dealt with a lot of issues going back many, many, years, I can see these now.
All these little things, little issues, keep getting put into a box. The problem is that box only has so much space, it will overfill.
I bottled a lot of feelings, emotions, trauma, death, moods, depression, the list is endless. You then get to a point where the smallest thing could end up setting of a chain reaction of events, when that starts, it engulfs you, you feel out of control and thoughts and choices become very blurred and irrational.
My box overfilled, it burst, It exploded into millions of pieces. I was hearing voices, I was having conversations with myself. I left work on my lunch break, but I didn’t return for nearly 8 months.
During that lunch break, I sat in my car talking to myself, asking myself what to do. I was highly emotional and in a hyper state of mind and not thinking clearly. Then the solution to all my problems came to light, the solution was to walk out in front of a high-speed train. So at the nearby train line, I calmly got out of my car, I locked it and walked down towards the tracks. From this moment on, I had no perception of time and these bits of information were filled in by those that came to my aid.
Three hours had gone passed. I had dozens of missed calls on my phone, work had contacted my partner, she was trying to call but I didn’t notice my phone ring. I remember a feeling of the heaviest darkest cloud being around me, like it was wrapping itself around me tighter and tighter. I could feel myself somewhere deep down inside trying to fight the feeling. I was in emotional distress, crying, sobbing, being angry with myself, all I felt was the enormous weight of pain and despair and I was rooted to the spot.
For some reason which I will never know, I had a moment of clear thinking “How will they ID me?” It was at that point , but this thought made me take my wallet out of my pocket to check that I had any identification. As I opened my wallet, I was greeted by this beautiful face, my other half smiling at me. For a split second, I seemed to come to my senses, enough to make a part of me think, “what the fxxk are you doing mate?”
Train after train passed by, I was close to climbing the small railing, less than 4 paces from certain death. I called The Samaritans from my mobile. I had no idea how long I spoke to them or what I said. I remember a fear of not wanting to move as I didn’t know which way I was going to step, later I found out I had spoken to them for nearly an hour, they convinced me to call 999.
I did call 999, again I was frozen in my movement. The police wanted to find me, but they didn’t now where I was and I didn’t tell them. After an hour, they found me and this was the first step of so many in my journey.
The local Police Mental Health Triage Team picked me up. This was a van, accompanied by a police officer, mental health nurse and a paramedic. I was safe, for now, but I didn’t feel it. It is a very hard feeling to try and explain, but although I was in safe hands, I did not feel safe as I could not trust myself to not self-harm. It was dark when they arrived, I have no idea what time it was.
The Police had spoken to my other half during this time to let her know I was safe, I had come to no harm, but I wanted to end my life. I do not think I will ever understand the effect that that conversation has had on her.
From there I was taken to the local NHS mental health unit and was admitted voluntarily for a 5-day assessment.
So much has happened in the last 12 months, I do believe things happen for a reason, some of the circumstances that have touched us all this past year have affected people in a negative way, yet affected me in a positive way.
When I was released from hospital to the crisis home team, I moved out of the house I shared with my partner. This was to give both myself and her some space. What had happened was a traumatic event for us both of us and we needed time to get our heads around things and start the healing process.
Just a week or so later, it was March and then the first national coronavirus lockdown occurred. We both joined decided it was best for me to stay at my family home for lockdown. Looking back, this gave us both the time we needed. I was signed off work, my partner was furloughed, people sometimes say they need time, we had an abundance of it and it was exactly what we both needed.
A year has now passed since that day. I am not going to lie by just saying I am in a better place now and all is good, it has been bloody hard. The aftereffects of a crisis like I had are huge and it takes a long time to process and get through it.
For a long period, I felt shame. I did not want even my family or closest friends to know what had happened and that was tough on my partner. The best way to try and describe what my head was doing is like this. It was like driving down a motorway at 100mph, in thick fog and mud over the windscreen. I suffered very badly from sensory overload. Noise, bright lights, the smallest thing would send me into a spin. The panic attacks and anxiety, the feeling that I would never get better, waking up to the darkness every day. Sleep was a friend that had left me, many hours of being wide awake, yet so tired I could not function. Suicidal thoughts and graphic images of self-harm, voices in my head. Not giving me instructions but my own voice giving me self-doubt, hearing things in the distance that were not there.
I consider myself very lucky in all of this from the support I received. My General Practitioner (GP) was amazing, work were incredible and left me alone for a long time, it was nearly 5 months before I had a conversation with HR.
Slowly things improved. I learnt new skills to keep me grounded, tools to use when it became too much, but I had to fight with myself to keep on top. This is the real battle and a battle I continue to fight today. Adjustment takes a long time, routine is so important. The simple things like getting up at the same time each day, no matter how hard it is. Eating well, fresh air and gentle exercise.
Pacing is important as well. It will sound weird, but one of the best bits of advice I was given was not to have too many good days back-to-back. When this happens, you have a natural high, a feeling of euphoria from the release of adrenaline and endorphins and when the effects drop off it’s a massive crash.
Communication with my partner was key in all of this. We had to talk, a lot of the talking was so hard and emotional. I suffered very badly from ‘fight or flight’ I did a lot of flight when it got tough but over time this got better. I could not have completed this journey without my partner, she was and still is my rock. So many times, I thought I had lost her but we both fought and will continue to do so today. Recovery from a crisis is a very long process and will need continual work, I think until the end of time.
Counselling is still a big part of my life, of both of our lives. My partner has been on her own journey with mental health, what happened to me was a trauma for her and it has certainly taken its toll on her. I am only now starting to really understand the ripple effect of my actions to those close to me. A mental health crisis in my eyes is not about one person, its like an emotional hurricane leaving a trail of emotional damage that needs fixing.
Talking is so important. Raising awareness is so important. Looking after yourself both physically and mentally is so important.
So where am I now 12 months down the line?
Back at work full time after the best part of 8 months off. I am back at home with my partner. The mental health battle will never stop, BUT I can see it now, I have accepted it, it’s part of who I am. I have accepted that I will have bad days and that I now let them roll, because tomorrow is a fresh start and I know it will be a better day. I have a greater appreciation of what is around me, people, nature. The simple things like feeling the morning sun on your face, listening to the bird chorus, those things we take for granted.
Take 5 mins in your day and just stop and listen to what is around you, learn to love life again in these difficult times.
My name is Luke Newman and I am the founder and director of ‘For Men To Talk’. Today marks its one year anniversary of its launch and although it seems to have gone by in a flash, so much has happened.
I started it as I know how hard it is for men to be open with their feelings. I wanted men to feel comfortable enough to talk and give them a venue to do so.
As I was setting up the room at Jones’ Cafe in Biggleswade. I placed information leaflets from the Samaritans, MIND and CALM on a table in the corner. The biggest killer of men in the UK under 45 is suicide. One in four men have thought about taking their own life and over 40% of men suffer in silence, never sharing their feelings.
I was petrified. Not because I was afraid that nobody would turn up, but afraid that men wouldn’t take up the opportunity to talk. I was delighted to see that nearly 20 men attended that first group meeting. In the next couple of months, those numbers rose.
I’m not a professional, I’m not yet qualified, I will do so in the near future. But from the feedback from the attendees, is that they like that. As mentioned, I had information leaflets available from professionals, if or when the men needed them. But I think that lads liked that it was so informal, no rules, no regulations, no hard questions to answer. The subject could be anything, feelings, worries or even about sport or television, but the comforting thing was that all the men in that room had one thing in common. They were going through troubles, but they wanted to talk.
It was also a chance for men who have finished counselling sessions to continue their journey. A few were saying that although their therapy had been completed and personal growth had been achieved, they wanted to continue talking. The ‘For Men To Talk’ group sessions allowed that continuation.
I’d only been running the group for three months and in March 2020 I would receive £420 as a donation from Potton Colts under 15’s football side. They played a friendly game against Gransden FC at the local football stadium, underneath the floodlights. I couldn’t thank the players, managers, sponsors and spectators enough. Truly overwhelmed.
Then on 23 March 2020, the worldwide coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome, made our Prime Minister Boris Johnson announce a national lockdown and ordering Brits to stay at home. This meant banning gatherings of more than two people and closing all non-essential retail. It also meant that our physical group meetings were over.
I couldn’t let that stop the progress of the sessions and needed to think of an alternative. I was introduced to Zoom, a video and audio communications tool. This would allow ‘For Men To Talk’ to continue, in an online form.
However, the basic Zoom plan would only allow the meetings to last 40 minutes. We needed a premium plan which would give us unlimited minutes, but that cost £115.
Mulberry Homes is a privately-owned company that builds both residential and commercial properties. They have been building a new housing estate in my town and had seen advertising posts on Facebook pages. They very kindly donated £400, which paid for that premium plan.
So since 25 March 2020, every Wednesday men would continue their mental health discussions, but now virtually.
This has allowed us to welcome experts to join the meetings, who were able to present and suggest improvements and techniques on improving mental health. Experts have discussed grief, nutrition, exercise and also separation from a partner.
We have also discussed the importance of male cancer awareness and recognising the symptoms. A page is now dedicated on the ‘For Men To Talk’ website with downloadable PDF files recognising the symptoms of testicular and prostate cancer.
For nine months now, the virtual group meetings have been going from strength to strength and attracting men not just from the local area, but as far as Wisconsin in the USA. With current restrictions, due to coronavirus, these meetings with continue online for the foreseeable future.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank every single man who has attended the physical and virtual meetings. Hopefully you are seeing the benefits of talking about your feelings.
I would also like to that all the support from the public, for the kind words, for recommendations, for sharing social media posts, there is so many ways that you have helped.
To 2021, we maybe in unknown waters, but ‘For Men To Talk’ will keep swimming until we reach the shallow end and we can walk again.