Walking from Dundee to Arbroath you’d reckon the focus of your exertions would be pertaining to matters more physical than mental, wouldn’t you?
To name but a few, loupin’ feet, achy backs and ballistic blisters are endured on the long road from city to coast.
Trust me, I felt them all on Walk and Blether’s near-18 mile trek from Dens Park to Gayfield – and I called it a day at Carnoustie!
Enjoyed @WBlether’s Badge to Badge Walk with @DundeeFCCT and @ArbroathFCTrust – a fantastic initiative to trek from Dens to Gayfield and vice versa to raise awareness of mental health issues. I’ve had to leave at Carnoustie but the team are still powering on the full 18 miles 💪 pic.twitter.com/HMMFSGXq5K
— Calum Woodger (@CalumWoodger) May 22, 2021
Joined by members of both clubs’ community trusts, local mental health groups and other allies, the effort put in was aimed at raising awareness about the struggle any one of us may go through.
Whether it’s anxiety, depression, panic attacks or PTSD, Walk and Blether’s goal is to get people talking.
I’d say I’m quite open about my own mental health and the struggles I’ve faced – of which the list above covers – but speaking about these things isn’t always easy.
For all fighting through the pain barrier to plod along the group’s Badge to Badge Walk was a challenge, chatting to complete strangers, for the most part, was the real battle.
The advice is right – it’s good to talk
However, once you do put your guard down a little, it’s right what they say – it’s good to talk.
The focus quickly shifts from ‘how long to go?’ to enjoying a Saturday stroll like no other with newfound comrades.
In the May sun, views were taken in of the Waterfront, Broughty Ferry Beach, Monifieth, Carnoustie Links and, finally, I can only assume, the crashing waves of the North Sea battering into Gayfield and it’s adjacent amusement arcade.
One of the founders of Walk and Blether, Richie Peter-Tennant, unlike me, completed the whole journey and is a veteran of the group’s many rambles down the years.
For him, it’s really as simple as striking up a conversation to get started on the road to feeling better.
“It’s about having fun on a gorgeous day,” the 51-year-old said.
“Some people don’t want to talk to their friends or family and find it easier to open up to a complete stranger because they’re going to give you an unbiased opinion.
“It can feel too close to home with friends or family if you’re feeling depressed or suicidal.”
Sad number of Tay Road Bridge suicides sparked Walk and Blether into action
Along with friend and fellow-Dee Paul Murphy, Richie started the group in August 2019, concerned about the number of men taking their own lives at the city’s Tay Road Bridge.
The charity has since widened its scope to cover mental health for all – a decision vindicated in the turnout for their latest journey.
Explaining how they’ve diversified over time, Richie continued: “On this walk, it’s a whole range of people.
“We’ve got three boys, one is my son, an eight-year-old girl and we’ve even got a dog, Skip, who is our mascot!
“It’s about trying to be all-inclusive – everyone and anyone can join us.
“When we began, I was getting really concerned about the number of people taking their own lives at the Tay Road Bridge.
“I went to Paul, who runs the Balgay Hill Bar, and we both agreed we had to do something.
“We arranged the first Walk and Talk event in Scotland to raise awareness for men’s mental health and it’s grown from there.”
Football can play its part in starting conversations
Richie is a great believer in football being a powerful tool to spark discussions about mental health. Indeed, speaking to many people on the walk, it was the main conversation starter.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, attending games and getting it all off your chest is something the vast majority have missed in the past year or so.
It is something not lost on Richie.
The Newport-native explained: “It’s good for letting off steam, especially watching our team!
“You might meet up before the game, at a pub or something, and you may see that your mate is a wee bit down and, hopefully, go open up.
“Men are brought up to be macho and are told they can’t let their guard down with expressions like: ‘Grow a pair!’
“More and more men these days are coming to realise it is healthy to express your emotions, to cry – have a greet!”
Local mental health groups changing lives
Euan Roberts, a facilitator at the Dundee branch of men’s mental health charity Andy’s Man Club, also joined the walk.
The 30-year-old discussed his own demons and why he was so eager to complete the gruelling stomp.
“I’ve a lot of admiration for people like Richie,” he said.
“Anyone who is willing to fly the flag of mental health I’ve got the utmost respect for because it still has a stigma unfortunately.
“I joined Andy’s Man Club after a suicide attempt and, alongside the therapy I was getting, it helped me massively to rebuild myself after that.
“It’s driven me into a massive career change. Last year I jacked my job in and went back to university to complete my mental health nursing degree.
“It helped me find my feet and I realised, actually, I’m not too bad at this.
“I can use my lived experience to help other people. It makes you feel better in yourself as well.”
Small acts of kindness sum up spirit of walk
Another group, walking in the opposite direction from Gayfield to Dens, met us at halfway and pin badges emblazoned with each club’s crest were exchanged.
Yet another small act of kindness displayed on a walk where people bought others coffees, spurred each other on and just talked.
For Arbroath Community Trust chief Shelley Hague, who orchestrated the halfway meeting point, the event, sponsored in their case, will help the trust deliver more mental health services in the Angus area.
— Walk and Blether (@WBlether) May 23, 2021
“It’s absolutely brilliant to see so many people out supporting this and the added benefit of raising some money for the trust is incredible for us,” the 38-year-old said.
“It’s funding we can put towards mental health services that will support local people in Angus. That’s what this was all about for us.
“We launched the first Andy’s Man Club a couple of weeks ago but when we put a survey out to all of the residents of Arbroath, one of the things that came out loud and clear was there was a gap in service for a lot of people.
“The support we’ve had from all the local trusts and charities is great for us as a new trust – we only launched in November last year. It’s been a brilliant day.”
Writing this a week or so after the event, my blisters, aches and pains have dissipated naturally but the battle with mental health is one you must accept takes longer to win.
It’s a tough nut to crack but, if I learned anything with Walk and Blether, it’s that not only time but talking, too, is a great healer.