It felt like it had been a long time coming, but the day finally arrived. Saturday 6th February 2016 was Newcastle's Mental Health Day, and we were part of it. Us? Little old Men Tell Health.
Before you start thinking "but MH day is in October not February", well, you'd be right. Unfortunately, due the last year's Rugby World Cup, the event couldn't be done on the specific day so a cold, wet day in February it was. Cold and wet it might have been (and it was), but that didn't take anything away from an incredible day. Given the horrendous wind that we've had recently (we're looking at you Storms Desmond, Eva, Frank, Henry and Gertrude), a little rain was probably the best we could hope for in the north-east in February! We were wrapped up warm in our lovely branded hoodies (thanks to Elizabeth's Embroidery), so bring it on!
It was an early start for Team MTH as we got the train up to Newcastle. It takes about an hour of travelling directly from where we are, so we took the time for some hot Tweeting and Instagram action. The buzz was building, even online. We arrived with no problems (always a bonus) and, with a brief uphill walk from the station to Grey's Monument, we managed to get there in plenty of time to get set up for our very first mental health-related event! I felt a bit like a pack-horse carrying all our wares, but it's all good. The things I do for you lot ;-)
My wife and 7-year old son (aka my Executive Director of Marketing) were a massive help. It didn't take long to realise we'd missed a trick on certain things. I'd forgotten to update the offline website (insert time spent frantically searching for some free Wi-Fi to 'borrow'), no box of free sweets to entice our lovely Geordie friends (cue a hurried trip to a local chocolate emporium) and not enough freebies (who doesn't love a good freebie). My wife used her best Feng-Shei to make the stall look as enticing as possible, while I just got myself stressed and anxious. I think you'll agree she did a great job. Me? Not so much.
Despite the weather, one by one, two by two, the crowds started to arrive. Whether they were just passing by or had come specifically to support the event, it didn't really matter. Everyone was there for the right reasons. It was especially nice to finally meet some of the amazing people who had supported us, up until that point, only virtually.
It was a pleasure to meet some for the first time and others to meet again and catch up. Everyone was just as nice, if not more so, than I expected. Thank you for making us feel so welcome. Man-hugs were definitely the order of the day and they, you'll be glad to know, were free and we had plenty in stock.
Men are often labelled with the cliched, stereotypical role that they don't want to talk about their own mental health. I guess there's some truth in that, after all how does a cliche become a cliche?, but we met so many incredible people who were more than willing to share their own story with us. We heard some inspiring tales of how they've helped themselves to become well, some completely heart-breaking stories of how they have been affected by the death of loved ones, and some just wanting some help to make sense of their own minds.
They stopped, we chatted. They talked, we listened intently. We tried to help as much as we could and, where possible, we signposted them to the other fantastic organisations who were taking part in the event. They might not have realised it, but they'd already made the most important first step. Talking about mental health.
As much as we tried to help them, many of those people helped us too. They made me realise a few things that were missing on the website. It's not particularly accessible for those who are visually-impaired and, as you would expect, is written primarily in English. There are some foreign languages (not including Geordie) on our Where To Turn pages for particular countries but, for the most part, it's all in English. Hands up. My Bag (or is it 'Bad'). Either way, we're going to be tackling both of those things in the very near future. We've already started adding automatic translation on every page and I'm going to look into how to make the site more accessible. I can absolutely see their point, even if they struggle to see ours. Thanks for letting us know.
We made lots of new friends whom we hope to work more closely with. If we didn't get a chance to meet you and you're up for that, drop us a line. There are so many dedicated individuals out there, doing some amazing work on shoestring budgets that it just inspires you to do more. Thank you to everyone who stopped to talk, to buy a wristband to help keep our site going, the lovely ultra-marathon runner who blagged one of our hats (we hope it brings you luck), to all those who signed up to our newsletter (the very-cleverly named 'Male-In List') and those who showed an interest in writing a blog for us. Your support means the world to us, so thank you from the bottom of my arse (whoops, sorry, bloody spell-checker.. that should say HEART!).
Before we knew it, the day was drawing to a close. People were packing up and heading for home. I'd drank my own bodyweight in coffee (which is, I can tell you, a LOT), my Executive Director of Marketing had been paid in cheeseburgers, my wife had been amazing, I couldn't feel my fingers and my knees felt like they'd locked themselves straight, but I wouldn't change it for the world.
The whole day had an amazing atmosphere, which was effortlessly and enthusiastically generated by everyone taking part. The terrible weather may have put a few people off, but it most certainly didn't dampen the determination of everyone to deliver an event Newcastle and the north-east as a whole, can be rightly proud. We were most certainly proud to be a small part of it.
Did you go to the event? What were your thoughts and experiences? Any ideas on how it could be improved next year or any things you'd like to see included that weren't this time around? Let us know in the comments below.