Edinburgh's Athletic Arms landlord calls on men to stop 'bottling things up' and talk about their mental health over a pint

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Pub landlord calls on men to talk about their mental health over a pint as he joins forces with charity to reduce male suicides in Scotland

Pubs have been named as a favourite place for men to socialise but, while football scores and their weeks at work might be popular talking points, mental health isn’t mentioned. Now a pub landlord in Edinburgh is hoping he can help to change that.

Athletic Arms landlord Kevin McGhee is joining forces with mental health charity HUMEN to encourage guys to ditch the small talk and open up instead. On average men spend four hours a week at the pub, discussing sport and telling jokes – but research shows only 15 percent would talk about how they really feel. Fourteen men take their lives every day but men are half as likely to seek out the help and support they need for their mental health.

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The ‘Rise Against Suicide’ campaign aims to tackle that by getting men to see pubs as safe ‘non clinical’ spaces to talk instead of bottling up their worries. Kevin and his wife Claire are calling for locals to join them on December 4 for a 5k walk to raise awareness of men's mental health, donate and help the campaign to get men talking. Supporters will join forces in cities across the country in a pub pilgrimage by walking 5,151m to and from the pub, marking one metre for every man who lost their life to suicide in the last year.

Kevin and Claire McGhee back campaign to tackle male suicideKevin and Claire McGhee back campaign to tackle male suicide
Kevin and Claire McGhee back campaign to tackle male suicide

Kevin said the couple leapt at the chance to get behind the initiative. The couple, who are set to reopen Edinburgh’s once iconic Caley Sample Room in the coming weeks, said community is at the heart of their pubs. “Pubs are an essential part of communities. We see this daily as we welcome groups of people from across the city. We create a safe place for our guests to socialise, one where they can talk openly about the issues that matter to them. De-stressing is important, but so is opening up to those we trust. It is slowly becoming more accepted. Whatever we can do to help, we will do it. We recently noticed one guy had let his hygiene go, a sign he wasn’t doing so well. We put in a call and he got the help he needed.”

Kevin said he’d heard of men in local communities taking their own lives and that the pandemic made him more aware of struggles people were facing. “Everyone’s mental health took a battering during Covid. We wanted to do something to help our regulars,” he said. "I think the guys were so glad to be back, they were mostly sat alone in their flats. They’re more afraid of loneliness. In here it’s a safe space to vent. It’s all open plan so there are no real secrets. We have a mix of customers but still have a core group of older men. A lot of them chat to Claire, she definitely has a way with them.”

Speaking of his own experience the dad-of-two said: "I had a terrible time during lockdown so it was a relief coming back to the pub, getting to talk to folk again. Being an employer and a father is great and can be rewarding but can also be very stressful. When we reopened I was much happier. I found the second lockdown even harder. It was a worrying time. I saw a therapist after Covid. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. The worst thing you can do is to bottle things up. I didn’t see my kids in six months. It was rough.”

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"Men traditionally don’t talk about our feelings. Guys’ confidence is picking up on that but we do need to learn to open up more. It starts so simple, just takes one to say ‘I’ve had a tough time’.”

As part of their ‘Rise Against Suicide’ campaign HUMEN campaigns for non-clinical spaces for men to talk, listen and connect on a regular basis. HUMEN Founder and Actor, River Hawkins said: “We all need friendly spaces to talk, listen and connect. Pubs are the cornerstone of communities. We truly believe that this type of gathering place can play an important role in addressing suicide and mental health, if we just harness it for good, rather than the traditional ‘drink and forget’ mentality that plagues male social circles.”

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