Mongrels Men & Mental Health
By Jamie Apps
Maintaining good mental health has become of paramount importance in recent years. For this to occur, society at large has had to mature & become more open to expressing our inner concerns to overcome those issues. One sector of society which has seemingly found this a little more difficult is the male population. Many men, like myself, grew up with the ideas that ‘men don’t cry’ and ‘men don’t get emotional’ being drilled into us. However, as we’ve all come to learn, that is absolutely not true. In response, support groups have formed to help give men safe spaces to explore their emotions outside of the typical clinical environment. One such group is Mongrels Men - a community-based charity on a mission to improve the physical and mental health of men through sports, fitness, exercise, connection and community across Australia.
In a recent conversation with Neighbourhood Media, Tim Hewson - the founder of Mongrels Men - spoke about how the group came to be and how they support men’s mental health, particularly in Dee Why.
“Mongrels Men was conceived when I realised a lot of men of a similar age to me had put all of their time, energy, focus and attention into their careers and family life. Their social life came a distant second and was mostly organised by their partner, wife or significant other,” recalled Hewson.
“Men had nothing for themselves, generally didn’t organise their own activities and had very few close friendships or connections to draw upon when they really needed them.”
After realising that there was a need in the community, Tim and a group of other men started out simply by getting together and forming a local soccer team on the Northern Beaches. Since then, Mongrels Men has grown significantly, with the group now listed as a registered charity in multiple locations and boasting over 2000 members.
Building Mongrels Men around the typical masculine pastime of sport was somewhat of a ‘no-brainer’, according to Hewson.
“We know that exercise is good for our physical and mental health, so I wanted to create something that involved getting blokes out of bed and off the couch, outdoors and using movement, activity, exercise and sports to bring blokes together, encouraging them to connect with other blokes and creating new social connections and support networks within their local communities.”
How Does Mongrels Men Support Mental Health?
Each year Mongrels Men organise nearly 600 events, with more than 260 of those taking place on the Northern Beaches. As Hewson went on to explain;
“Mongrels Men offers a range of meet-ups, events and activities designed to get blokes together on a regular basis in their local community.
“Our communities run a range of activities, including ‘Walk & Talks’, social soccer, running, surfing, golf, swimming, and tennis, as well as pilates and yoga sessions, boxing, and self-defence. All of which contribute to better, stronger and healthier minds and bodies.”
However, it’s not just about getting men together to play some sport and then sending them back off on their own. The most important part of all of the Mongrels Men events is the connections and conversations that they foster. Tim and his team have developed an enticing and comfortable way to encourage this to occur at each event.
“Mongrels Men shout everyone a coffee from one of our local cafe partners, explained Hewson.
“The free coffee is a way to get the blokes to stick around, have a chat and make connections. It’s a very organic and supportive environment where blokes can be blokes and also share as much or as little as they feel comfortable. The aim is not to stand around in a circle holding hands, pouring your hearts out. It’s about getting outdoors, being active, making connections and having meaningful conversations. All these ingredients together create an environment for improving the mental health of our Mongrels.”
Why is Mongrels Men so important?
Looking at the mental health statistics in Australia, it becomes abundantly clear that groups like Mongrels Men are of vital importance.
“Men account for 7 of the 9 daily deaths by suicide, and 1 in 6 Australians will think about ending their own lives during their lifetime,” explained Hewson before continuing. “About 50% of us will experience a mental health condition, whilst anxiety and depression are increasingly impacting more Australians every year.”
What Mongrels Men provides is a “non-clinical” approach that focuses on “delivering prevention-focused programs” so that we as a society don’t have to witness men getting to a “crisis point before reaching out for help.”
For men in particular groups like Mongrels Men are an absolute necessity, according to Hewson:
“Whether we like it or not, men (unlike women) often have difficulty opening up and discussing their issues. Women will go for a coffee, eyeball their friend, and dig deep into ‘what’s been happening’. Men don’t tend to do that.”
The activity-centred approach that Mongrels Men provides has proven to be remarkably beneficial in fostering these discussions.
“Exercise and activity is a great way to get blokes talking and sharing in a non-confrontational environment. Shoulder-to-shoulder often works best, as guys don’t have to stare each other in the eyes. So walking up the beach, running side by side or playing a game of soccer. Giving blokes “something to do” while they are building these connections has worked well for us,” said Hewson.
Getting involved with Mongrels Men
Mongrels Men is open to all men who want to build community connections with other blokes in their area. However, Tim has found that they tend to attract men between the ages of 30-70 - in the peak of their family life and careers or perhaps winding down to retirement.
The Dee Why Mongrels Men group currently meet at the Dee Why Beach stairs every Monday, Wednesday & Friday morning at 6:15 am under the Mongrels Men flag. Each session typically sees the group exercise for around 45 minutes, followed by a quick swim and then grabbing a coffee from Bambalino Cafe before they then stick around for a bit of a chat.
“Knowing that there will always be a group of guys meeting up at a particular time each week provides a structure for connections and conversations. It allows the men to build rapport, develop trust and feel comfortable opening up at their own pace. It’s an open environment where everyone is welcome. It provides an opportunity to share stories and challenges, get support and also have a few laughs at the same time.”
The ultimate aim with Mongrels Men, according to Hewson, is to “have a Mongrels Men community in every postcode in Australia, so blokes have somewhere to go in their local community.”