Founded in June 2020, blOKes is a not-for-profit men’s mental health community interest company (CIC) that provides males (16+) with a safe, supportive, and non-judgemental platform to open up about their thoughts and feelings, connect with likeminded people and tell a #MaleTale.
Users can create a free blOKes account and join an online community of likeminded men all sharing guidance and advice based on their lived experiences with mental health. The peer-to-peer support element is designed to show men that they are not alone and that they don’t have to struggle in silence.
blOKes works alongside a clinical mental health partner – Willow Grove Consulting – to host and facilitate talks and events, as well as to create and distribute bespoke men’s mental health resources and materials to schools, colleges, universities, sports clubs, businesses and other organisations across the UK.
How did you come up with the idea for the company?
I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in November 2016 while in my second year at Northumbria University. I stopped playing sports and socialising altogether and began to isolate myself from my friends and family. Due to the stereotypical emotions that men in particular experience in regard to their mental health – embarrassment, weakness, unmanliness, and guilt, I did not speak to anyone about how I was feeling.
It was only when I failed to take my own life that I finally chose to reach out for help. I booked an appointment to see my GP and was very quickly prescribed antidepressants and referred for various forms of counselling and therapy. Regardless of the varying types and doses of antidepressants I took and the mental health professionals I saw, the one thing that always helped me the most was normalising conversations about my thoughts and feelings with those around me. Not feeling obliged to say that I was fine when I wasn’t.
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Having experienced the benefit of removing the taboo around talking about mental health, I wanted to provide others with a platform I knew I would have benefitted from when I was at my lowest. Because for a lot of people, that initial step and reaching out for support can be the hardest.
Having started up after the first few months of COVID-19, we saw a quick uptake of men using the platform. Whether that be to write something themselves or just to read about other people’s experiences. blOKes has shifted away from initially being quite sports focussed to providing an outlet for men from every walk of life – regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, interests or any other factors.
What can we hope to see from blOKes in the future?
Naturally, the pandemic all but halted our plans to host in-person talks and events. The vast majority so far have either been moved online or cancelled altogether.
A big area of focus for 2022 will be to provide tailored mental health workshops and free downloadable materials that focus on educating men around the different types of mental illness, how they can help friends and family, and where they can go for support.