A COUNTY Durham man who received “vital” and “lifesaving” help from a mental health service is calling on others to seek support on International Men’s Day today. 

After retiring from his job on a farm in 2017, 71-year-old Alan Henderson was encouraged to attend his local Cree group after feeling lonely and isolated.

Alan, who also struggled with feelings of depression after leaving work, first visited the Cree to see how they could best support him. 

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Since then, the 71-year-old from Consett has never looked back, making several new friends, and experiencing a significant improvement in his mental health.

The County Durham Cree Network, supported by Durham County Council and Durham Community Action, began back in 2010 as a men’s health and wellbeing project.

The idea was to provide a place where men could get together, take part in a range of activities, form friendships and seek support from one another.

Since its first beginning 11 years ago, the Cree has helped support many men like Alan - giving them advice and support and putting them in touch with like-minded people.

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Alan said: “I was going through a tough time when I finished work. My doctor from the mental health team asked me if I would like to join a Men’s Group at Beamish Museum.

“I wasn’t sure at first, and it was a struggle to go, but I went along the first week and was made welcome. 

“I found it hard, but as the weeks went on, I settled into the group well. When I look back, it was the best thing I have done. I would advise anyone to do it and give it a chance.”

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After finding that the Cree Network had worked for him, Alan is now urging other people across County Durham to get support, whether they’ve retired or have found themselves isolated from others.

The Cree network has recently undergone a rebrand and developed a new website which launched ready for International Men’s Day.

This year, the day promotes the themes of ‘Making a positive difference to the wellbeing and lives of men and boys’ and ‘Promoting a positive conversation about men, manhood and masculinity’.

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To coincide with International Men’s Day, Councillor Paul Sexton, cabinet member for adult and health services at Durham County Council has also spoken about the positive impact of the Cree Network.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Councillor Sexton has highlighted that membership of the network has risen considerably, showing how important social activity is for mental health. 

He added: “For some people, the responsibilities and pressures of daily life can lead to poor mental health. Cree traditionally provides a space where men can come together, take part in activities, and share their problems with others. 

“On average, Cree supports approximately 350 members per year. However, last year, despite being closed, that figure rose to just over 500, reflecting the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on people’s wellbeing. 

“In such turbulent times, Cree provides a vital outlet for people to improve their mental and physical health, offering a safe, communal space to people who may be experiencing poor mental health, risk of social isolation, self-harm, suicide and poor health and wellbeing.”

If you need help or mental health support, here are some contact numbers to call: 

Samaritans: 116 123

If U Care Share: 01913875661

Crisis and Recovery House: 01388 640190

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