Amid the chaos of modern life, men still aren’t talking enough about their mental health and the pressures upon them – a new event aims to change that
t’s a Saturday morning in central London, and a group of men are gathering over coffee and doughnuts to discuss what it means to be a man.
The Whole Man Academy offers an informal environment in which men from all walks of life can come together to share their experiences. Covering everything from mental health and physical wellbeing, to relationships and life goals, it aims to discuss the role of men in a world where the expectations placed upon them are shifting.
The project is the brainchild of journalist Matthew Shaw, 46, and lifestyle coach Anthony Astbury, 40. The pair are old friends, but after noticing a shared interest in men’s issues on each other’s Facebook pages, they decided to forge a new partnership, and quickly organised the first ever Whole Man Academy event at the end of 2018.
“Firstly it’s about learning from other men,” says Shaw. “At the first event we had an 18 year old who came, and he said that he’d never been in a room with so many men of different ages and different experiences, and that was really enlightening for us. Here’s someone at the very beginning of finding out what kind of man he wants to be, and this is a great place for it.”
Indeed, I’ve no sooner settled into one of the comfy armchairs scattered around the room before we’re making introductions, and I find myself opening up to a young student and an older university lecturer – both of whom have learned about the event through social media.
The Whole Man Academy hopes to draw men in not just through the prospect of talking with their peers, but with guest speakers. Today it’s the turn of former Premiership footballer and boxer Leon McKenzie. With refreshing honesty, he speaks about how he was thrust into the sporting limelight in his mid teens, before going through a rollercoaster career of highs and lows for which he was mentally unprepared.
As men we tend to bottle things up,” says McKenzie. “We just try and get on with it. But sometimes it gets to a stage where we just crash. We’re all great actors as men. We pretend everything is great, but it’s about being real when you’re doing great and also being real when you’re not great. You should be able to say, ‘You know what? I’m having a bad day today.
MacKenzie traces his troubles – including marital breakdown, a stint in prison, and an attempted suicide – back to injuries which threatened the career on which he had built his self-worth. This opened an enlightening conversation about the importance of extracting your personal worth and contentment from your profession.