Research has shown that many men do not reach out for support when they are experiencing mental health distress until they feel they have exhausted all other coping strategies or reached a point of crisis.1 There is also evidence to show that men often feel counselling and mental health services do not meet their needs.2
An initiative that is providing a better way of supporting men before they reach a point of crisis is The Men’s Table. Men’s Tables are groups of 12 men, who meet for dinner once a month to provide a safe and trusted space to discuss what is going on in their lives and share how they are feeling.
Co-founders David Pointon and Ben Hughes created the first Men’s Table in 2011 and began taking the concept out to more communities in 2019. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, they have been rapidly growing in number and expanded to over 60 Men’s Tables across Australia.
David Pointon shares the benefits of Men’s Tables and why they are successful.
What are the attributes of Men’s Tables that appeal to men, and encourage them to seek support and share their feelings with others?
Our recent Couch to Community report looked at help-seeking behaviours in men and how peer support groups such as The Men’s Table can help men transition from being reluctant to seek help to feeling engaged and connected. There was a strong indication from men that having somewhere they felt they weren't being ‘fixed’ was appealing, as was the opportunity to help other men whilst helping themselves.
Men tell us that having a trusted, non-judgemental space where they can speak openly and honestly is invaluable. They feel they are being really listened to, and when they hear other men share their stories, it helps them see they are not alone in how they are feeling. Sometimes it’s exactly that which helps the most.
What benefits do men experience when attending a Men’s Table?
We survey the men who sit at Tables annually - this year showed us that most men feel sitting at a Table positively impacts other relationships in their lives, such as with their spouse, family and also other men. There’s a ripple effect a Men’s Table can have on men and their communities.
Other benefits include the ability to share their feelings and be vulnerable, a feeling of belonging to a community, improved social connection, having a trusted and safe place and, importantly, improved mental health and wellbeing.
Have you conducted any evaluation of the outcomes or impact of Men’s Tables? What did you find?
As mentioned earlier, our Couch to Community report, which was released in March 2022, examined help-seeking behaviour. We found that an effective peer-to-peer environment substantially changes men’s tendencies towards help seeking, leading them to be more comfortable when feeling stuck or troubled.
When asked about their approaches to seeking help, there was a noticeable uptick in more helpful strategies being used. For example, before sitting at a Table, 24% shared they turned to using a substance (for example, alcohol or drugs) to cope. However, after sitting at a Table for a period of time, this dropped to 9%. And the percentage of those who reported bottling up and not being able to discuss their feelings went from 48% down to 8%.
Conversely, some of the more helpful strategies, for example reaching out to someone for help moved from 38% to 74% after being involved with The Men’s Table, and sharing and being open about issues increased from 29% to 89%.
The sense of community and peer support appears to help men with self-healing strategies and empowers them to take personal responsibility for the changes they want to see for themselves.
Where can men go for more information or to attend a Men’s Table?
Men can visit our website: www.themenstable.org. We regularly run in-person and online 'Entrees' which are an introduction to how a Table works. It’s a great way for men to decide if joining a Table is for them.
Seidler ZE, Wilson MJ, Oliffe JL, Kealy D, Toogood N, Ogrodniczuk JS and Rice SM (2021) “Eventually, I Admitted, ‘I Cannot Do This Alone’”: Exploring Experiences of Suicidality and Help-Seeking Drivers Among Australian Men. Front. Sociol. 6:727069. doi: 10.3389/fsoc.2021.727069. Available at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fsoc.2021.727069/full
Seidler, Z. E., Rice, S. M., Kealy, D., Oliffe, J. L., & Ogrodniczuk, J. S. (2020). Once bitten, twice shy: Dissatisfaction with previous therapy and its implication for future help-seeking among men. The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 55(4), 255–263. https://doi.org/10.1177/0091217420905182. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/d...