'There is still stigma around masculinity': Leyland dad organises walks for men struggling with mental health
A Leyland dad-of-three began hosting mental health walks at Avenham Park last November. Now, as Covid-19 restrictions ease, he is encouraging men from Preston to join them and open up about their struggles.
First founded in 2019, the Walk and Talk 4 Men group was set up especially for men in a bid to get them talking and opening up about their feelings.
Since then, it has caught on in 17 locations nationwide, with a dad from Leyland setting up a walk in Preston last November during the pandemic.
Organised once a month at Avenham Park, Robert Flood aimed to get men from across the city to meet up, walk together and open up, in order to help improve their mental health.
And as Covid-19 restrictions continue to ease, the 39-year-old, who is also a Movember community ambassador for Preston, is encouraging other local men to join the group following a challenging year.
He said: "I wanted to try and do something every month to help men and improve their health after I tried to walk 300km last year. I began volunteering to run the walking sessions in Preston last year and have been doing it ever since.
"Most of the men involved do have mental health issues and struggles. I have suffered from anxiety and depression for most of my adult life, and this is a great opportunity for men to get together and talk openly about how they feel.
"We have found it is a lot harder for men to feel like they can open up and talk about things. Quite often, men feel more comfortable when they are shoulder to shoulder, instead of face to face and it is a more comfortable environment for them to discuss their feelings.
"We split into groups and it gives people the chance to make friends, and if they are struggling, it encourages to get them talking and we can help people through their issues."
The regular walk events are held across the country in open green spaces, aiming to provide a safe and supportive network for men to connect with one another and to help positively change the conversation around men's mental health.
First established in Essex, primarily in Chelmsford, the new walk divisions are now established all over the UK including Brighton, Wigan, Preston, St Neots and Birmingham, with participants all following set guidelines to adhere to COVID compliant safety measures.
With over 800 Facebook group members and more than 1,000 followers on Instagram, the movement is continuing to tackle stigma related to men and their emotions.
Robert added: "Men struggle more with talking openly because of the stigma surrounding masculinity and what it means to be a man. So many men feel like they cannot show their emotions, and it even took me until later in my adult life to actually open up and tell people I was struggling.
"You hear phrases like 'man up' and 'boys don't cry' and tend to carry that with you and hold things back. Hopefully, walks like this will help to change this attitude for the future. There is still such a stigma around masculinity which we hope to change.
"With things opening up again, I want to get the word out there. I want more people to be interested and just want people in the area to know what we are doing and come down if they want to get together with other men and walk in the outdoors."
Participants are encouraged to meet outside the Continental, South Meadow Lane, before walking six kilometres around Avenham Park together.
More information can be found at the Walk and Talk 4 Men website.