The social enterprise MenSpeak, founded by Kenny Mammarella-D’Cruz is advocating for online men’s groups to be used as a key tool for men’s wellbeing during social isolation.

Mammarella-D’Cruz, who was coined ‘The Man Whisperer’ by Newsweek, strongly believes a safe space allowing men to vent their feelings would work wonders for men’s mental health. The origins of the online group’s lie in Kenny’s personal struggles during the beginning of lockdown.

The Online Men’s Group Keeping Thousands Happy and Well During the Pandemic

A few days before the country went into lockdown, Kenny tested positive. Whilst he was in isolation he repeatedly looked outside of his window anticipating the arrival of the military and gunfire. His mind harked back to his childhood in Uganda where his family was in hiding under Idi Amin’s rule. Kenny shared his feelings of agitation during lockdown. “It was energetically or emotionally familiar to my childhood. As soon as I felt an ounce of uncomfortable energy, I thought from now, every day at lunchtime, I’m going to initiate men’s groups by donation so men can speak things out and be heard.”

The Online Men’s Group Keeping Thousands Happy and Well During the Pandemic

As an alternative to mental health sessions, the check-ins offer a safe space for men to hang out, share the small stuff and have a laugh. Kenny highlights the impact of the group sessions. “Since lockdown, it’s been a lifesaver. People have had friends and connections and found out who they are as ‘men’ rather than ‘surviving boys’, more than they would ever have made the space for or they didn’t even realise what was missing.”

The groups play a huge role in breaking barriers down in men’s mental health particularly in part by meeting their emotional needs. “Many men have said ‘I didn’t realise that all my friends would just be getting drunk all the time and there’d be no quality. Or we’d avoid things all the time, or we would just play sports. But they didn’t know how I was actually doing.’ So suddenly, people have had a place to speak things out, find out how to navigate life, learn from each other and pick up tools. And they’ve taken this into their relationship with their families, friends are their community.”

Widening the sessions to men of all ages and backgrounds makes the check-ins accessible to all. “One man is a carer for his mother, and doesn’t have the capacity to work so he’s on a low-income – so it’s great that he can attend!” The sessions are personally funded by Kenny and further supported by donations. 

On the approach of check-ins, Kenny emphasises that the group learns from each other’s experiences. “There is no, this is wrong, and that’s bad. And this is how to fix it. Generally, we’ve got three questions that we start with ‘your name, how you feel right now and what’s going on?’ For men to talk out what they wouldn’t say to anyone, what they wouldn’t even admit to themselves and learn they’re not alone and hear from others – it’s an absolute life-changer.”

Men’s check-in regulars who have also undertaken therapy in the past have shared that the approach of group check-ins is completely transformative. “For me, the game-changer is, that I’ve never fixed anything thinking about it in my head. The line we use is ‘we name it, rather than shaming it or blaming it.’ And a lot of people step back and shame, especially men. It’s like ‘no, I can’t say this, I have to hide this because of my mother or my father or my religion’.” Building on this approach, Kenny released an e-book to share these tools so men can learn from each other’s life experiences.

The Online Men’s Group Keeping Thousands Happy and Well During the Pandemic

MenSpeak Men’s Group is now a community interest company so are able to receive financial support beyond the community. Now working towards upscaling, the plan is to make these groups available as 12-step programmes making them feel like a normal routine for men.

To learn more about MenSpeak men’s groups, click here.

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Uzma Gulbahar holds a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University College of London. She is particularly interested in exploring untold stories surrounding marginalised groups, identity and culture.

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