A Beckenham firefighter is celebrating eight months since the launch of his men’s walking group, specifically for those working in emergency services.

Dean Corney, from Beckenham White Watch, set up the walking group with some colleagues after discussing the male suicide rate and how men particularly in their line of work don’t talk about their mental health.

He had also previously faced struggles with his own mental health.

An additional 40 new members have since joined and Dean is appealing for more men to get involved to help combat loneliness.

Some other emergency service staff are now also attending the sessions.

The group meet every week on a Tuesday morning at Beckenham Place Park, Bromley, for a short walk.

The scheme has been such a triumph that ‘walk and talk’ groups have been set up by firefighters across the country, including Richmond Park and Hampstead Heath.

Next week marks Mental Health Awareness Week, which is focusing on exploring the theme of loneliness this year.

Dean explains why he initially set up the walking group: “About three years ago a group of us were talking about the male suicide rate and how men in our line of work, and in general, don’t talk about their mental health.

“We talked about why we thought that was, the possible barriers and ways we could encourage conversation to try and help break the stigma.

“I realised, actually, I don’t talk about anything.

“I’ve had my own struggles with mental health and I’m a big advocate for getting people to talk, but I wasn’t doing it myself.

“I thought, how many more people aren’t talking?

“We quickly deduced that there wasn’t anywhere for men who work in the same line of work as us to go, even if they wanted to talk, aside from the Brigade’s Counselling and Wellbeing service.

“Not everyone wants or needs that, so we wanted to offer something informal as an early intervention where men can chat to others in the same job in a relaxed setting.

“Some men feel like they are on their own, so just having the opportunity to get out of the house and come see us is a massive boost.

“We’ve had walkers on long term sick leave who have gone back to work after attending our walks.

“We are so please with all the support and the amount of people turning up and contacting us as we wanted to get the conversations started around mental health and this shows it is happening which is fantastic.”

Kate Bonham, Assistant Director for People Services at London Fire Brigade, said: “The Brigade offers a counselling service that operates around the clock and any staff member can get in touch with us and talk if they need to.

“But groups like this, where people can get out in the fresh air and open up among their peers, are invaluable too.

“Dean and everyone else involved are a real credit and doing a fantastic job of improving the mental health of men in the emergency services and armed forces.”

You can find out more about the Beckenham walking group on Twitter @mwmh999 or Instagram @WalkandTalk999.

For those thinking about setting up their own walk and looking for guidance, email: walkingforhealth@hotmail.com

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