HUMEN Launches Online ‘Gym For the Mind’ To Tackle Mental Health in Isolation

When the lockdown walls came up and the doors slammed shut, it left us with a disconnect between the outside world and our everyday lives. Some of us became accustomed to the social distancing measures quite quickly, but for others, the sudden societal change forced brought with it uncertainty and self-doubt. “There’s not a single person on this planet that could have predicted the scale and effect of a pandemic like this. And with that uncertainty, comes fear and anxiety,” River Hawkins, founder and CEO of celebrity-backed UK men’s mental health organisation HUMEN says. “Even people who have rarely felt these feelings are recognising them and it’s scary. Seeing friends and being connected to other people can help to curb those feelings, but that’s even more difficult at the moment.”

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Hawkins isn’t alone in his thinking. In March, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a statement noting that “In public mental health terms…levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, and self-harm or suicidal behaviour are expected to rise”. Curbing mental health issues is precisely why the spritely entrepreneur chose to start HUMEN in the first place, so when the damning assessment came out, he knew he had to do something. Hawkins has taken his in-person support sessions, know as the HUMEN Space: Gym For the Mind concept and transitioned them online.

Regularly, the support sessions are split into two parts. The first being an open-floor exercise where anyone can voice their current concerns or personal issues, and the second moving into sharing based on a weekly theme, such as fear or self-worth. There’s no obligation to share and all sessions are finished with a round of gratitude to bring it back to the present. “It’s really important to allow men the space to share when they want to, rather than feeling forced,” Hawkins says. “What’s amazing is that in almost every session you see this domino effect of someone sharing something that gives another guy the inspiration or confidence to share because what they said really resonated. We emphasise the importance of really listening as much as talking, as that’s vital in true human connection, that ability to listen and really hear what the other person is saying.”

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The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t stopped Hawkins from following through on his mission either. Turning to Zoom, HUMEN Space Online was born, allowing the support groups to continue to flourish, but Hawkins reveals there has also been an added boost; the sessions are now global. “It’s really been incredible to see men from all over the world join and be able to provide them with The HUMEN Space where we weren’t able to before,” he says. “An attendee emailed us on Monday straight after the session saying, “I just don’t see anything like this in society for men. I liked that it’s so accessible, especially now that it’s online. I was struck by how unique it felt to invite people — who you don’t even know — into your personal life and let them care about you.”

It’s interesting timing for the global movement to take hold. HUMEN currently runs support session across centres in London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Dublin but had planned to launch internationally by September 2020. “We had three new spaces ready to launch in the UK in March and had planned for Sydney to be our first international HUMEN Space in June,” Hawkins explains. “Although the physical space is on hold, we can actually now help men all over Australia earlier via our online platform.” In fact, the new HUMEN Space Online sessions are already doing well down under. The first southern hemisphere online space will kick off on Monday, April 27 at 6:30pm AEST, with subsequent sessions to follow weekly.

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Talking about mental health isn’t easy and we usually have the guise of work and outside commitments to occupy our minds, but in this strange era of forced home-arrest, those long-avoided issues may bubble to the surface. Just because you aren’t able to leave the home, doesn’t mean you can’t share those feelings and get the support you need. After all, the gyms are closed but we’re still finding ways to work out, right? “It’s more important than it’s ever been before for people to make a huge effort to stay connected. Make actual scheduled appointments with your family or friends. Talking on a regular basis is medicine and a preventive to further mental health issues which is why we encourage men to come to the HUMEN Space on a regular basis,” Hawkins says. “We call it The HUMEN Space: the Gym for the Mind because a workout is more than how far you run or how much you can lift, we can’t neglect our inner workout.”

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