Nathan Cox, Neil Driscoll and Roberto Simone (from left to right) founded BRAWD along with James Thomas, after noticing a lack of mental health support groups for men.

‘We have lost too many brothers to suicide’: the group of friends breaking the stigma of men’s mental health

The group of friends have founded Brawd – a weekly mental health support group, open to men of all ages.

A group of Cardiff friends are launching Brawd, to “allow men the chance to break the stigma of men’s mental health once and for all”.

Co-founders Neil Driscoll, who works for the railway signalling programme, and Roberto Simone, a business analyst, decided to create this men’s mental health support group, after losing many male friends to suicide. Nathan Cox, James Thomas and Adam Virgin later joined the group to offer more support and ultimately created Brawd.

“It all started from a conversation between me and Roberto. We were discussing COVID times where unfortunately lots of people we know, especially those in the self-employed business and the furlough, felt they didn’t have any options other than to take their own lives,” said Neil. “We saw this cost-of-living crisis as something that may have a similar effect.”

BRAWD aims to break down stigma and provide men with a safe and confidential environment to talk

Brawd, which means brother in Welsh, aims to “to remove the bravado, provide a platform to talk openly about issues and problems without judgement.”

“We just wanted to set something up to tell these guys that they do have an option and there is help and support out there,” Neil added.

According to the Samaritans, the overall suicide rate in Wales was 12.7 per 100,000 people in 2021, up from 12.2 in 2020. However, the male suicide rate in 2021 was 19.7 per 100,000 people, compared with 5.9 for women. The Office for National Statistics confirmed that, in 2021, “around three-quarters of suicides were males”, something which is “consistent with long-term trends”.

Neil co-founded Brawd with Roberto Simone, as they felt there weren’t many Cardiff specific support groups available, and if there were, they weren’t easy to find.

“We tried to put ourselves in a position where we felt like we had no options and think ‘Where do we access this information?’ and ‘How do we get the support that we need?’ and a simple search on Facebook didn’t show anything up, on Google as well,” said Neil.

“When people are down on their luck, they aren’t going to have the correct mindset. The keywords we searched didn’t come up with anything useful. We want to change that, if possible.”

“The biggest bugbear for me, and possibly the biggest catalyst, is when people post on social media saying: ‘if you’re feeling alone, reach out and speak to me!’” Neil added. “Anyone that has actually been in a low mood know that reaching out to someone isn’t an easy thing to do.”

“There’s a conversation that needs to be had, and this is my proactive way of trying to combat it.”

Initially founded in December, Brawd have already attracted a lot of attention and support on their social media.

“The response has been overwhelming!” said Neil. “I’ve been posting a lot in different community groups on Facebook and the initial uptake has been incredible.

“I’ve seen a lot of wives passing it on their husbands, which shows that some guys are not ready to reach out and have the helps themselves yet. But hopefully, once they come, they’ll be able to show their friends that it’s not so bad. It’s all about breaking the mould,” he added. “It’s spreading really quickly – it’s testament to how much this is needed.”

“So many people are enlightened by what we’re doing. If we can help one man, that’s all that matters.”

Bro Coffi, an independent coffee shop in Victoria Park, has allowed Brawd to use their shop for the meetings to offer a “a safe and confidential environment”.

“First and foremost, we want to want to offer a safe haven for people to come and chat, maybe have a cup of tea. Obviously, as we’re in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, we wanted to make it free of free of charge, and Bro Coffi has allowed us to do that.”

Along with weekly meetings, Brawd hopes to expand to offer fitness and social events.

“A local boxing club have offered us to have boxing sessions free of charge, obviously mental health and exercise go hand in hand. For those who are not as abled bodied, we’re planning to arrange gentle walks or, the new craze of slipping into the sea,” said Neil.

“We’re trying to cater for all ages and abilities,” he added.

“We want to ensure they are aware that there are many options available whether it’s a signpost, group discussion or professional help but in essence make them mindful they are not alone.”

Brawd will have its first meeting at Bro Coffi, Papermill Road, on Monday, January 23, at 6pm.

You can also find more information on Brawd here.