Spotlight on Social Value – Matthew Hardaker

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Spotlight on Social Value – Matthew Hardaker was previously a Special Constable with Lancashire Police, Matthew witnessed first-hand how individuals going through difficult times could quickly escalate into a mental health crisis situation if they didn’t have access to appropriate support networks. His observations of the particular difficulty for men to speak about their mental health challenges resonated, so when he heard about Mental Health Motorbike, which promotes awareness of mental health challenges within the motorbike community, he was keen to get involved. Matthew has been volunteering with Mental Health Motorbike for two years and shares his story.

Mental Health Motorbike (MHM) is a network of MHFA accredited mental health first aiders who are all motorbikers. The ultimate aim of MHM is to reduce suicide amongst bikers in the UK by providing 1 to 1 and peer support, events, training activities and projects, working in partnership with other organisations and clubs. The MHM is building a free, dedicated network of trained Mental Health First Aiders who can support other bikers across the UK.

We use our shared love of motorcycling as an enabler to get people talking about their mental health, if they wish to. Members of Mental Health Motorbike have the discrete MHM sticker on their motorbikes and it enables and provokes conversation.

You tend to find that when you first talk to people about MHM they are a little hesitant and then before you know it, when you’ve told them a bit about the society and what it’s all about, 45 minutes have passed.

To them we’re just folks on motorbikes who’ll happily have a chat, but in reality, it’s given them the chance to offload to you and they feel a lot better. Sadly, there is still a lot of reticence by people to seek help and support, particularly by men, so the MHM provides people a great opportunity to get support in a setting (and with an interest) that is familiar to them.

If people aren’t comfortable with talking to us in person, we have a range of avenues for people to reach out to us. Various ‘private’ social media pages, telephone, Whatsapp etc. so they can offload and share whatever they have going on in their life. You realise that people do have a lot going on in their lives. Mental Health Motorbike provides a forum for people, under the banner of a common hobby, to say ‘Can I talk about this? Can I talk about that?’ and to realise that yes, its ok to want to talk things through.

The great thing about Mental Health Motorbike is it’s readily accessible and it’s available for people who are not yet at a full mental health crisis stage. In the UK there’s a greater availability of support networks available for people at crisis stage (such as Samaritans or the NHS) but for those people who are pre-crisis or in the earlier stages of a depression then support is very limited. It’s also the case that people may simply not have someone who they can reach out to. MHM provides that immediate listening ear to give instant support irrespective of their personal circumstances. It’s a great leveler.

In my volunteering job as a Special Constable for the Lancashire Police I witnessed first-hand people going through incredibly tough periods which affected their life and their mental health. And without a strong support network they could easily fall into a spiral of crime or care-needs or go towards a full mental health crisis. These individuals came from all walks of life; lawyers, greengrocers, mechanics, nurses and everything in between!

This stayed with me and I wanted to do something after my police volunteering. I’m a keen motorcyclist and I stumbled across Mental Health Motorbike and I thought ‘I’ll learn to be a mental health first aider… I didn’t really know what it entailed, but I was happy to give up a bit of my time and give a bit back.’

I went on a two-week course that was held in the evenings and we did everything from conventional content learning about the mind to how you should deal with someone who is going through crisis, role plays, what to do and what not to do etc. The course helped me to appreciate that people don’t necessarily want you to solve the problem for them; they want to tell you about the problem and have that realisation that it’s not just them going through this issue. Often they almost want that comfort that they’re not alone in their challenge – that we’ve all been through it.

During the course we learnt that you have to tailor your approach based on who you’re talking to because age, gender, religion and many other factors can all have an impact. There are different techniques you need to learn to draw out the conversation depending on who you are speaking to. Ultimately the course taught me how to engage people in a constructive way to encourage them to open up. And that is much easier to do that when you have a common hobby or talking point, which is why Mental Health Motorbike is such a great network and makes such an impact on people’s lives.

As mentioned previously, I think there’s gender, generation, religion, culture – many factors. Generally, I think men are less willing to share and that is a barrier. But there’s also something culturally in individuals being unsure to ask if someone else is ok. And that hesitancy means we’re not creating an opportunity to talk and share with one another.

One of the big things I learned in my policing role and my time with Mental Health Motorbike, is that everyone is the same. They might have different levels of armour and different levels of comfort in terms of speaking about their feelings, but I think everyone appreciates the question of ‘are you alright?’.

There are many:

  • It’s a non-judgmental listening ear. We’re a mixture of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, genders and ages. The individuals who reach out to us will certainly find someone who they can resonate with.
  • Realisation that they aren’t on their own / that others have faced similar challenges and come out the other side. Perception is very often not the reality!
  • It’s a great leveller. It makes you more comfortable with yourself and makes you more empathetic with others. I think we’re all guilty of wanting to be seen in a certain light; however we can sometimes forget that we’re all a collection of individuals who have the same thoughts, feelings and emotions.
  • To the individuals we speak to, MHM doesn’t feel like you’re seeking ‘intervention’. That’s a big barrier to some and it can stop them seeking help. We want our conversations to feel like a chat with a friend. 

The biggest thing for me was realising that whilst all things are important in context, the stress and strains in life mean we can lose context very quickly and this can send people into a spiral they may not be able to control. We should appreciate that we might not do things all the same, we might approach things differently, but that we’ve got to have some empathy that we’ll all react to stages in our lives in different ways, and we’re not always in control of that. Everything is solvable with the right help and support, and everyone should be comfortable asking for help when they need it.

If you want to get involved it can be as simple as getting a sticker and putting it on your bike and saying look if you want a chat, I know these people and they’ll have a conversation with you. If someone wants to be more actively involved, they can train to become a mental health first aider and then they can determine how much availability they want to offer and how involved they want to get. The practical application of being a mental health first aider is talking to people and being available should someone want to have a direct conversation with you.

We’re all on a bit of a journey, we all go through hard times at different stages in our lives. And it’s ok to talk. We’re all humans, we all have different levels of resilience and nobodys experience is the same. And that’s ok. Mental health affects everything in our life, and those around you, so treat it like any other health matter and seek help when you need it.

You can find support from Mental Health Motorbike here:

Matthew Hardaker

Matthew Hardaker

Senior Managing Consultant

Matthew has been in procurement for twenty years, working across financial services, logistics and most recently management consultancy. Matthew joined Barkers in September 2021 and leads our Barkers Digital practice which sees us lead our clients through programmes of digital transformation and technology-enabled procurement.

Author: Matthew Hardaker
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