A MEN’s mental health charity is organising a five-day walk around football clubs in the North East in memory of a Darlington teenager who died last year.
The event is organised by ManHealth, which is based in Shildon, in County Durham, to get people talking about mental health.
The March for Men-tal Health will be dedicated to eighteen-year-old Harvey McWilliams, from Darlington, who died in December.
The young footballer, who had played with Darlington All-stars, Blackwell Rangers, Darlington FC Academy and most recently, Exeter Panthers AFC, was also a passionate Sunderland fan.
The 130-mile walk will take the team from Bedlington to Middlesbrough, via 17 football grounds, including Sunderland, Hartlepool, Spennymoor Town, Bishop Auckland, Shildon FC and Darlington.
Paul Bannister, who founded the charity, which offers peer-support groups across County Durham and Darlington, is hoping they will raise £10,000 while also getting people talking about mental health.
He said: “We’re walking right around the area so hopefully we can raise lots of awareness.
“We are very aware that there’s a real public health emergency going on with mental health. There are too many men dying to suicide. There’s a lack of services for men who need those services.
“We need to raise awareness but the services also need to be there when people need them.
“We’re still seeing it take 16, 17 weeks to access professional services which is not good in a crisis.
“The pandemic has caused a mental health time bomb.”
He added: “It’s a really tough challenge. We’ve got guys who use the groups signed up but we want as many people as possible to join in – women and children as well.
“At the minute we have about five or six people doing the whole thing but people can join in for just a day or part of a day.”
Michael McWilliams, Harvey’s dad, who has been involved with the charity for about three years will be taking part.
He said: “I was completely overwhelmed when they dedicated the walk to Harvey. For them to do that really means a lot. If we can raise awareness to stop just one family going though what we are going through we will have done our job.
“He was my beautiful boy. He was always smiling. He was a very caring young lad and he was inspiring for people. He always had that smile on his face.”
Mr McWilliams started running one of the charity’s peer support group after seeking help at one himself.
He said: “Mental health is really big at the moment. For me it’s always been about raising awareness. That’s the main thing – getting the word out.
“I needed help and I found the group, not just because it was a men’s group but I just needed something. I related to a lot of people there. I got a lot of help so I wanted to give something back.
“A lot of men don’t speak up. When you’re depressed it can feel like you’re the only one. But when you tell people in the group how you’re feeling, someone will say ‘that’s happened to me’ and then someone else will say the same. Everyone can relate. You can talk as much as you can.
“People are very low when they first go there but going to a group can help get you out of a bad place.”
He added: “Just talk, check on your mates, ask a friend how they are. Try to get people talking because the situation is bad in the North East.”
The event takes place from April 13-18. For full details of the route and information about how to get involved visit www.manhealth.enthuse.com.
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