Duo encouraging people in Halifax and Calder Valley "it's OK to talk" about mental health

A Halifax organisation are tackling mental health stigma for men and women over the winter months.

Monday, 13th January 2020, 3:25 pm
Updated Monday, 13th January 2020, 3:30 pm

Formed last January, Unmasked Mental Health delivers services to both men and women across Calderdale, and aim to become a registered charity and have a foothold nationwide within the next few years.

The brains behind Unmasked are Logan Bonham Smith, 27, and Doug Dennison, 36, who are both based at Croft Myl.

Mr Smith said: "It all started when we provided a peer-to-peer anonymous app in 2018.

Logan Bonham Smith and Doug Dennison, who run Unmasked from Croft Myl, in Halifax

"Working with our third member Robin Cunningham, the Unmasked app, which we still offer, is a way for people to remain completely anonymous, but share their worries and issues.

"It's designed to allow users to reveal who they are only when they're ready.

"The app also provides an alert button to notify the Samaritans, which provide a 24-hour service."

Mr Smith and Mr Dennison spoke about their previous struggles with mental health, which in turn was the reason behind the creation of Unmasked.

Logan Bonham Smith and Doug Dennison pictured inside their Croft Myl office

"In 2008 I lost identical twins," said Mr Dennison.

"I was self medicating with alcohol, I bottled up my feelings, and soon my relationship broke down.

"Three years later, I married and had a child who died after two hours suffering with Edwards Syndrome, which lead to a divorce.

"Four years ago I tried to kill myself by driving into a wall because I was so embarrassed with how I was feeling."

Atif Jamil, 25, has been called a 'hero without a cape' since his story was told to the Halifax public

Although in a better place mentally with his new partner, Mr Dennison was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but is fighting tooth and nail to help others avoid going down the dark path of depression.

In true stiff upper lip fashion, Mr Smith shares a similar story to his Unmasked partner and friend.

He said: "In September 2017, my wife began struggling with depression.

"There was times when my wife seemed present and happy, but there were days when she would descend into a downward spiral.

“She was doing well with the counselling sessions, but in between appointments the support just wasn’t there.

"I knew it would be really helpful for her to have a network of peers to chat with when she needed to talk – peers who would understand her particular mental health issues and provide experience and support to each other.

“We want people to know it’s OK to talk. We work close with Andy’s Man Club (a Calderdale-origin-now-nationwide group which helps mental health in men) and provides four meetings on Thursday at 7pm in Brighouse, Halifax, Mytholmroyd, and Sowerby Bridge.

"At the meetings we ask five structured questions and change these questions each week to keep things fresh."

The Unmasked duo are now reaching out to the public to avoid suffering in silence over the colder, darker months.

"People are going to work in the morning while it's still dark and arriving home in the evening, again in the dark," said Mr Smith.

"Seasonal effective disorder is real and sometimes we don't understand why we're feeling like we do, but this time of year is definitely a factor, so we're urging people to reach out to us more than ever over January and February."

The rally call from Unmasked comes after Atif Jamil, 25, was awarded at the recent Calderdale Policing Awards for assisting in the prevention of a suicide attempt in Halifax’s town centre last year.

Atif Jamil, 25, of Halifax, said: “I was driving on Burdock Way and saw a man on his own at the side of the road.

“He was sober and there was no indication of any drug-taking - I remember he was very well-spoken and an intelligent man.

“Another person was on the scene at the time who contacted the police.”

Eventually, Mr Jamil talked the man down from Burdock Way and assisted police in preventing the potential suicide.

“This man was at the lowest point in his life, but I told him he wasn’t alone and I tried to hold my nerve,” said Mr Jamil.

“Every day I think about it. Just because someone is smiling doesn’t mean they are OK mentally, or physically.”

Mr Dennison said: "We want to save lives. We're striving to help people up and down the country, and we plan to expand into areas such as Cumbria and Bristol.

"Don't suffer alone and don't be scared to speak up, there are people who want to listen to you.

"Life is hard but together we can get through it."

Unmasked has recently been nominated for the Breakthrough of the Year category at the Calderdale Community Spirit Awards, and has been placed in the Best New Comer and Most Charitable categories at the Yorkshire Business Awards.

Unmasked work closely with Andy's Man Club as a referral for women and boys under the age of 16.

If you are struggling with mental health, groups, organisations and charities within the Calderdale area can help.

If you feel like you need immediate support, please consider attending an event nearest to you or contact the Samaritans free on 116 123.

A spokesperson from the suicide prevention charity Samaritans, said: "Anyone can contact Samaritans free any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit.

"This number won’t show up on your phone bill, or you can email [email protected] or visit www.samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch, where you can talk to one of our trained volunteers face to face.

Halifax's Samaritans branch can be contacted on 01422 349349, and is located on 29 Harrison Road.

Unmasked Mental Health meet at 7pm every Thursday for both men and women at locations: Kingcross Fire Station, Sowerby Bridge Tesco, Brighouse Tesco, and Mytholmroyd Community Centre.

Download the Unmasked Mental Health app at: unmaskedmentalhealth.co.uk.

Andy's Man Club can be contacted by visiting: andysmanclub.co.uk.