A practical account of the Mengage Mentalking sessions with Derbyshire Constabulary, Aug-Oct 2017.

Earlier in 2017, Nick Daines, a Police Inspector with Derbyshire Constabulary contacted Mengage to enquire about the Mengage Mentalking sessions, which as our advertising copy states explores strengths-based work with men, utilising aspects of male culture to enhance health, encouraging men to take control of their own health, support others, and to seek support with their own issues .” Nick wanted an hour’s workshop input to male police staff during their ‘wellbeing day’. Derbyshire constabulary are divided into five shifts; the undertaking given to Mengage by Inspector Daines was every fortnight for 10 weeks to provide discussion and insight into men’s physical and mental health.

This was quite a task; 50 to 60 police staff – all men, in a room (a bar, as it turns out!) in Mickleover, Derbyshire. Every two weeks for 10 weeks. The kit for delivery is ours to sort and a workshop specific handout had to to be arranged.

I am writing this having completed four deliveries of the Mentalking sessions – and so far, so good. As a teacher by training, and having worked in this field for nearly ten years, with a large group of males adding a touch of humour to the workshops is always a good way to break the ice and carry a workshop forward. With humour to the fore, the rough breakdown of the Mentalking sessions with the Constabulary goes like this:

  • Introduce me, and make jokes about the walking stick, various illnesses and potential ‘outbursts’ of those illnesses! Make it clear that an outcome of this session is for the men attending to feel they aren’t failing if they seek help. I also make it quite clear that I am not a medical professional!
  • Introduce the topic and say where we are coming from and what we are not saying – that this is about practical work on men’s health; that this workshop comes from experience, where delegates may approach the sessions with fixed outcomes in mind and then just push that agenda within the session. It is imperative to point out to these policemen that there is no hidden agenda, no spy cameras or feedback going to the bosses! Seriously, there will be no interaction if this is felt by the group.
  • Look at the cross section of a bloke’s reproductive organs. Make jokes about Harry Potter spells – corpus cavernosum and corpus spongiosum! (must have the rhythm!)
  • A short, humourous video (Horne & Corden).
  • Establish which organs men have that women don’t. Three out of four groups suggested ‘brain’. I suggested that they would say that men have a brain in one of the male specific organs!
  • Issues that might come up for men – every group goes straight to cancer!
  • Talk about the issues surrounding men not going to seek help. The men mention and discuss pride, masculinity, ‘man-up’. Time places are open and how welcoming they are to men are also discussed
  • The penis – as a barometer of men’s health (indicator for heart problems, diabetes). Everything from erectile dysfunction to a torn frenulum, penile cancer to priapism.
  • Testicles – everything from trauma and torsion, to cancer.
  • Prostate – what it is, what it does, where it is (surprised quite a few) and issues arising.
  • Breast cancer – a little surprised that men get this too.
  • Then another video (the Everyman cancer campaign video ‘Rachel gets fruity’) discussed from a social marketing perspective.
  • We then go on to talk about mental health; the rest of the day specifically focuses on this issue.

Every session has been well attended and well received. Quite a few of the men congratulate me on their way out and a couple of them stay to say something pertinent (one  started talking about endocrinology!) and to compare tattoos!

For me, this is a necessary input for these policemen. Never have they been spoken to in the frank, honest and open way in which the content is delivered. To have a man stand up in front of them and tell them about his own shortcomings in health and showing no diminishing of stature, for some, may be a true revelation. Not that Mengage offer anything unusual or that any other bloke could not do, but Mengage are doing it. To see these men beginning to get the idea that it is okay to talk, especially in such a ferociously masculine discipline as the police, certainly warms the heart. In talking to two Inspectors that oversee these events, this is coming a little late but better late than never.

Following my session they continue with a Police Sergeant who bravely talked about his own breakdown and how he had considered taking his own life; he reinforced the need to talk to each other and be there for one another. After lunch they go into a secular mindfulness session which focuses on how they look after themselves.

Great job Derbyshire Constabulary. During one session a Superintendent and an Assistant Chief Constable were onsite. The reality of looking after your staff as a first priority is being appreciated by the top brass. Stab vests and body armour are there to protect from physical damage – it’s also about putting something in place to help men be self aware and to prevent or at least support the mental damage that can potentially affect any individual in what must be one of the most arduous of professions.

Liam Kernan