Mental Health Awareness Week: Movement With Menfulness

16 May 2024

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and we’re continuing our tradition of raising awareness and fostering an inclusive workplace at Fortus. INCLUSIVITY is one of our core values and our business wants to help remove the isolation which poor mental health can create by continuing the conversation this year.  

We spoke to Matty Lewis, our newly appointed Head of Foundation who is leading the effort to launch our very own Fortus Foundation this summer. Matty is also a trustee of Menfulness, an inclusive social community for men in York who focus on bringing people together to let off steam and talk about any issues they might be facing.  

Many of Menfulness’s efforts centre around the Mental Health Foundation’s theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week – “Movement: Moving more for our mental health”.  

Even reading the group’s weekly events roster could feel like a workout – such is the expanse of activities on offer each week. Matty believes that it “feels natural for things to be based around movement activities to help members get their serotonin boost.” Social football, tennis, running and boxing all feature regularly, as does one of the group’s founding walk sessions, designed to be more accessible to a wider range of men. The weekly Sunday morning walk around Museum Gardens in York remains a one of the group’s most popular ways for members to connect, some five years after its initial introduction.  

Indeed, last year, Fortus’s efforts to address Mental Health Awareness Week’s theme of ‘anxiety’ surfaced the vital role exercise and movement play in managing our community’s mental health. We ran an anonymous survey, encouraging our community to open up and share their experiences and the methods they use to keep well.  

One of the most common responses involved movement of some kind – from stress-busting workouts at the gym and mindful walks in nature, to hobbies which involve less formal ‘exercise’ but still get us all moving – DIY, gardening and volunteering with animals were all popular choices.  

The chemical benefits of exercise on managing mental health are well documented, with studies showing certain types to be just as effective as some medications in relieving symptoms of depression and anxiety. And Matty knows only too well the wider benefits too. He cites the struggles men face in opening up and reaching out for help, and how an activity-based forum can remove the intensity which can sometimes be associated with starting a conversation about mental health struggles. He says: 

“So many of our members take these sessions as something social to get out the house, an opportunity to listen and soak in and learn, or as an opportunity to get stuff off their chest – it can be incredibly powerful.” 

This is something Menfulness’s associated charity, the Kyra Women’s Project also advocates for, alongside more formal recovery programmes, in the past the group has also organised groups to take part in York Rotary Dragon Boat Race, Ceilidh dances and the York 10K run.  

Although Menfulness was founded to provide support for men, Matty asserts the importance of the entire community looking out for all its facets. He credits the meaningful impact the women in the lives of members can and have had – “Women are much better at talking, at sitting down with their friends and saying ‘I’m feeling rubbish this week’ and so they’ve played a vital role in acting as the instigators or the encouragement for their male loved ones to access our support.”   

“We recognise that the ripple of suicide in men effects everyone, so ensuring we do more than just supporting men is vital. There have been occasions where a man’s wife/mum/daughter/sister have dragged them through the door and left them with us knowing it’s good for them. We have also presented Menfulness to women-only groups to raise awareness of men’s mental health, including how to check in and spotting the signs that a man is struggling. So whilst we are a men’s mental health charity, we know that our reach is far more inclusive.” 

And inclusivity is a word that the trustees at Menfulness are always considerate of. “We decided that social media can be powerful, and whilst we had a closed Facebook group – open only to men – we created an open page, one which now has over 5,000 followers, 56% of those followers are women. This is vital as a support tool for women who have encountered male suicide and a man in their lives who is struggling with their mental health.” 

The group’s successful model, which also includes traditional talk and support groups and a partnership with Serendipity Counselling, has attracted the attention of academics at York St John’s university. Dr Gary Shepherd’s research focus is on male suicide prevention and how male centric community groups can reduce suicide rates through challenging traditional male stereotypes. Something the group are incredibly proud, and grateful, to be a part of, as Matty asserts: “We’re constantly striving to get the message of our work out there – if we hear there’s been a suicide in York, we know we need to do more so we can reach these people.”   

Fortus encourages anyone concerned about their own, or a loved one’s, mental health to reach out for support from one of many organisations offering help: Menfulness, the NHS, the Samaritans, Mind 

Watch Menfulness’s viral short film –“One More Day” – which won a National Charity Film Award, based on a poem written by a member as a memorial to all who have been lost to suicide.