Community journalism: Walk, talk and share with Mental Health Mates Reading

Author
Simone Illger
Author's position
RVA Community Journalist
Primary interest
Health
On a very cold but beautifully sunny Saturday morning recently, RVA’s Community Journalist Simone Illger met up with Mental Health Mates Reading at Christchurch Bridge

Mental Health Mates Reading is part of a UK-wide peer support group organising walks and talks for those affected by mental illness, including their families, children, friends and dogs (on leads). The group meet twice a month for around an hour’s walk followed by a cuppa, at two or three venues in and around Reading.

Abby Lacey, who co-ordinates the walks, explained that she’d decided to set up the local walking group because of her own life-long battle with anxiety and depression. Separation anxiety as a child, then depression following the birth of her son, redundancy, and a house move, meant she was isolated and struggling. Eventually she sought support from her GP and was referred to Talking Therapies. Regular walks became part of Abby’s recovery. In April 2019, Abby set up Mental Health Mates Reading after she discovered that there was no local Mental Health Mates peer support group in the town. Since then, the Reading Mental Health Mates walking group has gone from strength to strength.

Simone, who’s a wheelchair user, was delighted to discover that the route was pretty accessible, mostly along paths and pavements with the odd patch of mud. For others who are keen to ensure they have the ability to join the walk, it’s about a mile on fairly flat terrain. Walking can be done at your own pace with others – nobody gets left behind. The route venues are selected so that you can opt to stop or leave the walk at any point. Hiking boots are useful if the weather is bad, but trainers or ordinary shoes are fine. Each walk is followed by a cuppa and a chat at a nearby café.

The group meets every fortnight on a Saturday morning at 10.30am at either Christchurch Meadows or Dinton Pastures. In the Summer when it’s warmer and the evenings are lighter, there are also walks on Wednesday evenings. Everyone is welcome – you don’t need to have a diagnosed mental health issue to join meet-ups. (Please note that Mental Health Mates is not intended to take the place of treatment and therapy. For advice, take a look a this guide to support and services on the Mind website.)

‘If I can help one person by being honest about my own issues, I’ve done my job’, said Abby. ‘The walking group helps others to open up and realise it’s “normal” – coping with mental health issues is more common than people realise. You don’t need to deal with it alone’.

If you are reading this and thinking you’d like to join the walking group, but are worried about meeting a lot of people you don’t know, Abby is always happy to chat to people via email or telephone first, answer any questions they might have, and put a face to a name. Abby will ensure that you are introduced to others on your first walk. Abby says: ‘Take a big deep breath – just do it – it might be the first step to many more walks!”

The group was really welcoming and I enjoyed the experience more than I expected to.  I’ll definitely be going on another walk soon. –Andy

 

Living on my own I can be at a bit of a loose end some weekends. I really enjoy getting out for a walk with my lovely Mental Health Mates and having a natter with people who understand what it is like to have mental health challenges. –Ruth

 

I had a great time meeting lovely people who go through the same battle as I do. It’s refreshing and so useful! –John

Further information