A PEER support group for men has launched a webchat and connect service for men struggling with mental ill health in County Durham.

Founded by ManHealth CIC the service comes at time when large sections of the population have been cut off and socially isolated due to the Covid-19 pandemic leaving many of the most vulnerable at even greater risk.

The organisation launched at the start of 2016 to offer support to men and address high levels of mental ill health and soaring suicide rates across the North-East.

ManHealth were running 13-peer support groups pre-lockdown across the North-East helping more than 3000 men in 2019 and has more than 500 men currently active in its network.

They were able to run their services online throughout the Covid-19 period and ensured all men were connected weekly via a variety of platforms.

The social enterprise has launched the ManHealth WebChat and Connect Service after receiving specific funding and support from the National Lottery Community Fund and the UK Government following a pilot in Bishop Auckland and Shildon.

Founder and Shildon resident Paul Bannister, 54, from Shildon who has lived experience of depression, developed the idea of male peer support groups in 2016 when he realised that for men like him who were struggling with mental ill health there was no one to reach out too.

Mr Bannister said: “There is a huge stigma attached to mental ill health and its really difficult for men to admit they need support.

“I felt men talking to other men who really understood the difficulties of being a man helped them admit to their problems. ManHealth is uniquely positioned to offer a listening service for men who are struggling to find expression for what they’re experiencing.

“We want to make it as easy as possible for them to make contact with us, particularly as the pandemic has pushed people well beyond previously accepted boundaries, leading many more toward crisis.”

The ManHealth WebChat and Connect Service operates seven days a week for four hours between 6pm and 10pm and is facilitated by men who are not professionals but have lived experience and have received training from highly respected national charity The Samaritans.

Men can also connect with the service when it is off line and health professionals can make referrals for their clients. For more information about the chat and connect service or the ManHealth groups visit manhealth.org.uk/chat or visit facebook.com/ManHealthCIC/