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International Men's Day: Mikeysline volunteers say ‘talking is so important’

By Chris Saunderson

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Reece chats to someone in the Hive during the pandemic.
Reece chats to someone in the Hive during the pandemic.

Men are traditionally reluctant to talk about their emotions, and whether they are struggling with depression or anxiety.

Bottling them up only makes things worse, but opening up is easier said than done at times.

That's why the suicide rate among men in the Highlands is higher than the national average.

Mikeysline was specifically set up as a suicide prevention charity, its focus today is as much on mental health support and awareness from an early intervention right through to crisis support and suicide prevention and is aimed at all ages and genders.

Reece Byrne has been a text line volunteer for about two and a half years.

Reece particularly enjoyed working with youngsters at Loch Insh.
Reece particularly enjoyed working with youngsters at Loch Insh.

He helped out last summer when the charity worked with pupils from Kingussie High School at Loch Insh.

Reece (27), who is studying for a degree in mental health and counselling, said: "We have a mix of people who come on to the textline. They can be first-timers or re-occurring people who need support. Even if it is just for a few minutes or half an hour, it is a helping hand.

"People can feel like they have no voice to listen to them and then they find somebody there willing to listen."

Reece, who had his own mental health struggles earlier in life, said he was surprised and delighted when he learned about Mikeysline and is grateful he is able to come together and work with like-minded people keen to help others.

He does a 6-10pm shift on the textline once a month, sometimes more often.

He believes more people are opening up to the conversation around mental health.

"It is becoming more viral mental health in terms of a general concept."

And for anyone still worried about any perceived stigma of mental health, he says the anonymity of the textline gives them that reassurance.

"One of the things that made me really proud and happy from the Kingussie event was when I got told that one of the kids remembered my name and said I had been able to help him."

Andrew Melville had his own strong support network.
Andrew Melville had his own strong support network.

Andrew Melville (44) is another team member who has recently joined as a community volunteer to help raise awareness, and hopes to go through training to work on the textline service.

One of the first things he did was dress up as Spiderman along with his son Devyn (7) to go around Nairn Highland Games collecting donations and raising awareness.

Andrew and his son Devyn (7) dressed up as Spiderman ready for Nairn Highland Games.
Andrew and his son Devyn (7) dressed up as Spiderman ready for Nairn Highland Games.

"In May last year I was going through my own thing and that is when I realised about Mikeysline and the benefits of it.

"I had a good support network around me and that means I can help people going through the same thing.

"I first became aware of Mikeysline in my local gym in Nairn and then Googled it and found out more.

"Nairn had its own issues with some young suicides over lockdown, which was really sad.

"It is trying to let people know that it is about communication. If you can talk to somebody and open up to them without judgement, it is quite a relief.

"I experienced the benefits of talking to my friends and I could see the support provided by Mikeysline."

Andrew, who works in finance, grew up in Nairn then gained "international experience" before returning to the town.

He realises there is still a Highland mentality, among men in particular, that they have to be the "tough guy" and just get through things.

"As men get older the smaller their friends circle can get, so Mikeysline can help and it can be a relief that someone else knows your problem and the weight is removed in part."

And Andrew said people need to realise that so many others are going through similar issues, whether that's losing a job, money worries, family issues, divorce or other matters.

The charity operates a textline support every evening of the week 365 days a year from 6-10pm, Sunday to Thursday and 7pm-7am Fridays and Saturdays.

Its textline service includes SMS, Facebook messenger, WhatsApp, Webchat and Twitter.

It also has 1 to 1 support available at The Hive mental health and crisis centres in Inverness, Nairn, Alness and Tain It and in 2021 launched a young person's service.

It can also do call backs for those who live further away from a Hive but want to speak rather than text. Online support can also be arranged. To arrange an appointment go to www.mikeysline.co.uk/appointments

In addition, it has a men's group – run by men for men – where people can drop in for a coffee and a chat. The next meeting is Wednesday, December 14 at The Hive in Inverness from 6.30-7.30pm. It will meet on the first Wednesday of every month in 2023.

To find out more about the support available from the charity go to https://www.mikeysline.co.uk/

Highland News and Media has adopted Mikeysline as its charity of the year for 2022-23. If you would like to support HNM's charity efforts for Mikeysline go to https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising

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