BLOG – “A place to talk” with Darren Mearns, The Changing Room
In Scotland, men of middle years are one of the groups most at risk of mental health issues. To initiative positive change ‘The Changing Room’ was launched by SAMH (the Scottish Association for Mental Health) at Tynecastle Park in partnership with Big Hearts.
We’ve met with Hearts’ supporter Darren Mearns who attended the first 12-week sessions. He shares his personal take on this wellbeing project designed for football fans.
How did you get involved in the project?
I’m 38 years old and I first had a period of depression when I was about 20. Loads of people are not aware of their own mental health or not sure what’s going on in their head. To me it’s a little illness that I have and I can recognise the signs. I’ve seen a tweet from the Club about the project and I thought it was a fantastic idea, so I sent an email to get more information. I then got a reply with dates and times to join the first session.
What does attending the group involve?
It’s just having a chat – about the last Hearts’ game, how your week’s been, etc. Doing this at Tynecastle Park ticks all the boxes for any Hearts’ fan. It helps you relax and speak in confidence in areas most fans don’t get to see! We played walking football and did a tour of the Stadium too. We then just relaxed and chat over a coffee letting people open up at their own pace.
“What really struck me is that in 20 years living with depression
it’s the first support group I’ve ever attended.”
Did you learn anything new with the group?
I came away with coping mechanisms. If you’re going through a bad spell, the group will help you learn some techniques to take care of yourself. It’s like a tool box. It means sometimes making small changes to your lifestyle, for example socialise more instead of staying home alone. Interaction is important for mental health. I’ve also learned to listen to others, speak out and not bottle up. Stepping back and admitting you are feeling rubbish does help!
1st session v last session, any difference?
I’ve noticed a huge difference! I remember the first couple of meet ups: some guys didn’t say a thing for 2 hours. What really struck me with The Changing Room is that in almost 20 years living with depression it’s the first support group I’ve ever attended. When you have depression, you can do 1-1 therapy. Speaking in a group is more powerful in my own opinion because there’s no doctors, no councillors in the room: it’s just us Jambos who can relate listening. When you see how talking lift the weight off someone’s shoulder, it’s amazing. I hope this project will go on for years.
“I feel I could tell these guys anything, like I’ve known them for years.
We relate to each other because we share a similar experience.”
What’s the best thing about The Changing Room?
The connection I’ve made with the other supporters in the group! I feel I could tell these guys anything, like I’ve known them for years. We relate to each other because we share a similar experience. We have become a close-knit group – even though we live different lives. We’ve exchanged phone numbers and are friends on Facebook. There’s a real bond.
What happens now?
The guys and I are meeting up again soon, at the ‘Keepie uppie’ catch up sessions. I’ve also signed up to become a volunteer for the next group of participants. What I’d like to say is that if anybody noticed their dad, brother or grandad hasn’t been feeling themselves lately or seems to be struggling or distant, then please get them involved. Now I feel confident enough to help others, encourage them to open-up and even say: What’s your story? Here’s mine.
WANT TO JOIN OTHER SUPPORTERS FOR A CHAT?
The next session will start on Wednesday 6th of March.
The Changing Room is open to men aged 30 to 64 years old. The project has one goal: to promote men’s positive mental health through the power of the beautiful game. Weekly meet ups are free to attend and run in partnership with SAMH, the Scottish Association for Mental Health and Big Hearts, the Club’s charity partner.
To find out more, email firstname.lastname@example.org