Advice for looking after your mental health from a WAY Ambassador

October 2023

Man smiling wearing glasses, a black shirt and a tie

WAY Ambassador Norman Smart shares his advice for looking after your mental health in grief.

Did you know 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem each year. That could be a family member, a friend, a colleague, or it could be you.

Mental health is a vital national issue at the best of times, but the need for meaningful support in the community has become even more relevant as we’ve navigated the challenges of the pandemic.

There are many causes or triggers for a mental health episode.

Mine was the death of my wife Helen seven years ago. Shortly after her death I felt so helpless and alone I found myself having suicidal thoughts. Sadly at first, I couldn’t be open and discuss my emotions with my family and friends. After all us men just don’t do that...

Having joined WAY I have been able to do just that, be open and discuss my feelings. Thanks to their peer-to-peer support network, there is always someone I can reach out to, no matter what time of day it is.

If I’m having a black dog moment (a term Winston Churchill used for his depression), I can reach out on Facebook or the WAY members hub and I’m certain to have positive responses of support.

So, I would encourage everyone to be open with friends, family and colleagues, about how you’re feeling. It’s good to talk, trust me I’ve learned the hard way.

It was to this end that after several conversations with fellow male members of WAY at the Southampton AGM back in 2019, I decided to create a group for men within WAY.

The Man Cave is a subgroup of WAY intended to be a safe place for men to discuss issues affecting them (anything from health, relationships, parenting) – safe in the knowledge that the group membership is ONLY open to men (sorry Ladies!). The Man Cave is also aiming to be a safe space to express our feelings, request and offer support, vent safely and discuss topics of general interest to men. The Cave membership continues to grow and currently has 273 members.

My tips for other young widowed men and women who are struggling are:

  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption. It may block out the pain to begin with and during, but it soon passes, as I learned from experience, and you end up back where you started.

  • Find someone who can support you, either in person or over the telephone or online. 

  • Don’t bottle it up. Men don’t have to have stiff upper lips and broad shoulders and to remain silent about their feelings. These stereotypes are a thing of the past.

  • Exercise is also good. If you can, go for a walk every day, even if it’s just around the block.

  • Try to eat as healthily as possible, even if you don’t feel like eating.

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More support:

If you are struggling to cope, speak to your GP. There are also support services available 24/7 in the UK:

Samaritans helpline – 116 123

Text SHOUT to 85258

In an emergency, or if you are in danger, call 999.