Earlier this month saw the launch of http://www.man-talk.ie , a space for men to express any bottled feelings they may be having. Digital design wunderkind and project founder Jon Harrison took a little time with Jimi to talk about the project.
What’s the project all about, and how did it start?
This project is all about men’s mental health and trying to do something – anything at all – that might help even just one person. Over the last couple of years we’ve seen some different social trends going on, like during the rugby world cup where they tried to have lads chat for the 15 minute half time or the “it’s ok to not be ok” challenge that was doing the rounds on Instagram about a year ago. While it’s wonderful to raise awareness and get the message out there, it always stuck in my head, yeah this is great but if a lad then turns to his mates and says “lads I’m struggling” there is two common responses “you’ll be grand” or some variation of that and “let’s go have a pint and figure it out” which inevitably ends in a drinking session and leaving the person in the exact same place as
they were the day before with an added hangover. I think as lads we are getting better at having the tough chats when we need but nowhere near where we should be and the stats back that up. Lads are 3 times more likely to die by suicide and I don’t think we are doing enough to reverse the trend at times. The biggest factor here is lads unwillingness to admit they have an issue and won’t talk about it, so no matter how many amazing services there are that can help the problem is getting the lads there.
I know this from personal experience. Long ago you’d go to the brink before asking for help and nowadays I have a few young fellas, mainly from the sports that will reach out and ask can they pop up for a cigarette and a chat just to have someone a bit older who has been there and done that who can just let them know they’ll be grand.So I guess that’s kind of how this started. Working at home during this whole new isolation and understanding the pressure and stress I was feeling about work, paying rent, bills, helping the family and the reduced exercise from sports being cancelled brought me to a point where I started thinking, my “problems” are minor in comparison to those who might have lost their jobs, may be struggling to keep a home over their families heads and any number of other things going on. Again taking myself as the example I was never going to turn to my boss and tell them I needed a mental health day or would I tell my family I was feeling the stress.. not a chance, and not because of feeling weak or anything but they needed me. A Man’s pride eh? It got me thinking what helps me, what’s known to be a good way of managing these issues? The major thing is getting shit off your chest and not being judged for it. So taking together everything I’ve just said I decided rather than sit and wait for a better way I would give it a shot and see what we can do to help. Sometimes a good rant or sharing what’s going on in your mind can be the difference.
Whats your own background?
Ah Jimi I guess you could say I have one of those jack-of-all-trades backgrounds. Years in sales dealing with the public gives you a great understanding of people as you know yourself. I’ve also got a degree in Product Design and a Masters in Business Management which has led me down a split pathway so I work in Digital Marketing as well as being the Junior Editor of Irish tech news site Goosed.ie.
I think my understanding of good design, web development, social media, brand building and user experience all kind of came together to start Man-Talk.ie and it’s that background in technology that’s going to help me bring this forward. We now live in an era of innovation off the back of Covid-19 where we are looking for new ways of doing things, and something as simple as a deleting inbox to vent your frustrations is just the beginning. Basically my background is online and technology, so that’s what I’m going to use in a new digital era to try help people in whatever way I can.
So what exactly happens when someone heads over to the site?
Right now, not a whole lot to be honest but that’s kind of the beauty of this in my opinion. If you go over to the page you’ll notice it’s a fairly simple one page site with no thrills, frills or filler. We have some basic stats and some information about what we do and why we are doing it. The main thing is the inbox. We aim to help lads share their problems in a safe and anonymous way. The inbox is so simple and works not unlike the old school method of writing a letter to yourself and chucking it in the bin. I think guys big problem is not knowing how to say they’re struggling or being too proud to admit they need help, that just leads to bottling things up and we all know that’s not healthy. So our system allows these guys that won’t talk to someone keep on their mask and still have a place they can share their feelings. So if you go to the inbox you can write your story, then and there, and submit it. It will go to the firstname.lastname@example.org inbox which is set up to clear all mails every single day. That means a guy that writes in doesn’t need to worry about who has the mail, what they might think about their problems and all of that. The mail comes in, they feel better sharing and our system wipes it clear and nobody on our team goes at the mails (not yet anyway). Which for me is kind of poetic is the sense of they let go of their problem and then we wipe the slate clean and tomorrow is another day.
Is there a concern around non-professionals offering counselling services?
No, no and no. I’m not counselling and neither are we interacting with the mails that come our way. It’s simply at the moment a system that allows you get some stuff of your chest and let it go. To be honest I’d love to help in a counselling sense but when it comes to something so sensitive I wouldn’t feel right putting someone’s life in my hand. Look it’s grand when its someone you know because you know their personality and when they need the hug or a kick up the hole but on a bigger scale there’s no chance I would take that risk. So for now there is no counselling service, when you send your email you will receive an email saying we have received your mail while listing a number of bigger professional services a user can contact if they want/need professional support.
Now don’t get me wrong this is only a start point, I do want to be able to get to a point where the professionals are aboard. We’d love to have volunteers with ASSIST training responding to mails or interacting with a live messenger service and I would even more so love to get this to a point where professionals can manage virtual “Zoom” appointments where the guy has the option to remain anonymous or not. But as I said we are only at the beginning and if people want to come aboard and help speed up the process then please reach out to me and let’s do something because in an ideal world, by this time next year the people who need to be running this service will be.
What direction do you see this project taking?
Yeah as I said right now it’s me, my computer and my knowledge of web design and social media which is getting this off the ground. The inbox for me will always remain in place as in my opinion it’s a start point for someone in their mental health journey
but in time I really do think there is potential for this to be so much more.
I’ve already built a chatbot which can direct people to resources and I’ve already got the Drift live customer service chat feature ready to go on the site but these cannot and will not go live until we have the volunteers with the right training to manage.
I can also very very quickly add a Calendly online appointment calendar system into the site
if and when we have professional counsellors who would be available at whatever times to do
some online counselling sessions for lads who need it.
To be honest I have a very clear idea of where I want this to be:
- Anonymous inbox to vent your feelings
- Live chat for those who could do with a quick talk or guidance
- Professional virtual counselling sessions
- Blog area sharing people’s stories anonymously and how they manage, tips/tricks to help and all that good stuff
- Man-Talk community events, like your local soccer club inviting young adults and senior players to the clubhouse to watch a match an talk etc can be the same with musicians or whatever
That’s pretty much the direction I want this to take and especially the last piece around
events, I think would be cool because it puts the power back to the lads, offers a channel of
communication between people and maybe starts to break down the stigma to a point where
these chats are normalised as they should be.
How can people help out / get involved?
All and any help is always welcome. Look something as simple as sharing on Facebook or
Instagram will make a huge difference in getting the word out there but if people have
particular skills or talents they feel would help the project then welcome aboard. If people
fancy helping we have a button on the site that says “lend a hand” click that and drop us a
line or Dm us on Facebook or Instagram. We would love your help so please do get in touch!
Jimi is the editor of soapbox.ie. You can get in touch by emailing him here.