As we embrace Movember’s goal of shedding light on men’s health, we share with you the story behind a men’s MS support group. We hope this example will inspire any men out there that may be feeling isolated, detached, or unable to find their place, to find a way to be heard.
A proud Tasmanian, Andrew Potter was first diagnosed with MS aged just 23, a year into his marriage. After being confined to a wheelchair, and undergoing various treatments, Andrew was able to eventually able to walk again, and in time, return to part-time work. Now more than three decades on, Andrew knows better than most the power and importance of being able to share your story and speak freely about your life with MS.
So about 7 years ago he, and group of like-minded men in the Northwest coast of Tasmania, commenced a “gathering of us men”, an offshoot group from their local MS Support Group, catering solely to men with MS.
Andrew told us that the inspiration behind starting the men’s group can be found in an observation of how men interacted in mixed gender support groups; “pretty much we identified men sometimes (mostly!) are not as forthcoming or feel comfortable in sharing some of the range of issues we face living with MS. Particularly in a mixed gender support group gathering predominantly made up of the opposite sex! Between us all, we just, in discussion, thought it would be nice for us to get together for lunch and ‘see where it goes.’”
Ever since, they have met regularly as a casual group to “do lunch” and chat as mates over a meal. These meetings provide a great opportunity for them to be very candid and overt in their discussions.
Of the many benefits experienced by those involved, they include growing new friendships, a sense of comradery, and an opportunity to talk specifically about their experiences as men living with MS; “We can share all and sundry – identify pathways and steps for information-specific service options and resolutions.”
In this way, they can take challenges head-on in discussion as a group, “including obviously how we’re travelling with our MS, family, relationships, sexuality, anxiety, depression, empowerment, medications, employment, the future, etc. etc.”
All equally motivated to be involved, they have found that one of their biggest challenges is one of clashing diaries; finding time to ensure all are available to meet. Obviously the site must also be accessible, but interestingly, living in a small and regional community, they have found it “exceptionally refreshing nowadays that it is no big deal for a group of men to meet for lunch and talk ‘health shop.’”
An initiative that has required no funding accept ‘lunch money,’ they keep the cost for the meal affordable, but if there are any financial limitations amongst them, they “just do a coffee!”
The most valuable outcome has been the great relationships established between them all. “We are all very, very different personalities. Our commonality being our diagnosis and the daily challenge we share living well, or as best we can, with MS” with many of the members and their families forming lasting friendships that continue outside of the Men’s Group.
Their goal going forward is to “not only maintain the group and the inherent support this provides us all, but to ensure other men feel welcome to also come along and participate.”
We strongly encourage anyone who feels that they would benefit from being involved a similar group to put themselves out there and consider starting one of their own.
There are also activity-based initiatives available nationally, such as Men’s Sheds (https://mensshed.org/find-a-shed/)
As highlighted by Movember on their website, “70% of men say their friends can rely on them for support, but only 48% say that they rely on their friends. In other words: we’re here for our mates, but worried about asking for help for ourselves. Reaching out is crucial.” You cannot overestimate the power of connecting with others, being able to check in, catch up, and make time.
If you contact the MS Society in your state, they will be able to also direct you to any groups of this kind already established within their communities.