Menhear: the Preston mental health group getting men talking and changing lives

Menhear founder William Killeen (left) with Conner Cooke (centre), and Kyle Robinson.
Menhear founder William Killeen (left) with Conner Cooke (centre), and Kyle Robinson.
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"The biggest problem is getting people to come, sit down, and go 'listen mate, my head's cabbage', but the minute they step foot over the door, that's it," says William Killeen. "Everyone talks about how they feel, how their week's been, their plans, and we have a cuppa. In that room, we're just blokes."


In April this year, William founded Menhear, a Preston-based group offering one-to-one and group sessions to help men manage their mental health and well-being. A non-profit, the group's mission statement is to promote the concept of actively managing mental health as a positive. And the difference it's made so far has been huge.

William Killeen

William Killeen

Having worked in mental health for a decade before retraining as a behavioural teacher, William, 43, himself suffers from anxiety and depression. "I used to go to a men's group with church and, as soon as people started opening up, you realised all the lads had issues and everyone was going through the ringer. I'm from a council estate and every single one one of us was the same - down, miserable, and some of us depressed.

"A lot of people had committed suicide, so something needed to be done," he added. "I thought 'why not me?'" With that, Menhear was born.

Now offering an eight-week pre-prescription programme, peer-led group sessions, and one-to-one sessions, Menhear encourage anyone to come down to their meetings and talk to others in a similar situation to them. The eight-week course, spearheaded by William, focuses on physical, emotional, and mental well-being as well as nutrition to ensure that people are offered as rounded a support network as possible.

William's sister Liane Whiteside, a former teacher at Preston College who now works in supported housing whilst studying social pedagogy at university, helps William as much as she can with the behind-the-scenes running of the group.

Menhear

Menhear

"It's so important we get the word out and actually get men to the sessions," said Preston-born Liane, 48. "There's such a taboo around men's mental health and the suicide rate amongst men is as high as it's ever been, but now that we've got more sports stars and celebrities speaking up, it's helping people accept that speaking is good. It started small and it's just gone from there."

The efficacy of groups such as Menhear is also being recognised by the NHS, who are unveiling a policy of social prescription encouraging people to attend groups such as Menhear instead of taking medication to deal with issues of well-being. Various companies are also getting in touch with Menhear to run mental health programmes with their employees.

"I just started talking to a people and it's gone through the roof; blokes are starting to realise that it's okay not to feel great," explained William, also from Preston. "A lad called Kyle Robinson came to me three or four months ago not in a good way, and now he actually helps me. He's come such a long way and I'm so proud of him.

"Once they realise there are people sat around them going through the same things as them, the walls come down and they can't wait to say something," he continued. "It humbles me everyday. One guy said he might look like he's just having a laugh, but that him talking gets him out the house and away from thinking where he's getting his next drink."

In the UK, men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women, with suicide the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45. But talking helps.

"You see the difference in people immediately," said William. "We give people the tools to help themselves and try to make a difference."

Menhear runs weekly sessions on Mondays (1pm-3pm, Onward Housing Office, Downing Street), Wednesdays (12.30pm-2.30pm, Plungington Community Centre, Brook Street), and Thursdays (2pm-4pm, Central Methodist Church, Lune Street).

For more info, call 07958 427 599, email menhear19@gmail.com, or follow Menhear on Facebook.