Long read: Find out more about Wrexham AFC’s men’s mental health group – Dragon Chat

In the lead up to World Suicide Prevention Day, we find out more about a men’s mental health group attached to Wrexham AFC.

World Suicide Prevention Day is on September 10, with around 70 mental health and suicide prevention groups joining forces as the National Suicide Prevention Alliance to raise awareness of this issue and how people can support each other.

“It’s critical to have open, honest and healthy discussions around mental health.”

One organization which is doing its best to support men going through mental health issues is Dragon Chat, which was set up around January 2020 and is attached to Wrexham AFC.

Dragon Chat meet up online on a weekly basis, via Zoom, offering peer support to men aged 18 and over who are experiencing mental health issues. It is free, with no registration needed.

The topic of mental health is not always an easy one to bring up in conversation and groups like Dragon Chat have proved to be a good way to get men to come together to share their experiences and support each other.

Wrexham AFC prides itself on its community work and its co-chairman Ryan Reynolds has himself spoken openly about mental health and specifically his experience of living with anxiety.

The Leader was invited along to one of the weekly Dragon Chat online gatherings to chat to organiser and co-founder, Steve Lloyd, along with fellow volunteer Dave and group member Leighton.

Dragon Chat co-founder Steve Lloyd

Dragon Chat involves a weekly get together from 7-8.30pm on a Thursday evening which is set up like a football game in terms of structure, with a 90 minute session broken up into two halves.

There’s time for a good catch up on the latest developments at the club, as well as a chance to share what the members have been going through.

At the moment, the group meets online due to the pandemic, but it is hoped that face-to-face meetings can return at some point.

Smashing stereotypes

“We’re trying to make the world a slightly better place and if we can just save one life then it is worth it.”

Group co-founder Steve Lloyd, who is a mental health nurse, said he felt it was incredibly important to have groups like Dragon Chat to smash some of the stereotypes that have existed over the years when it comes to men’s mental health, such as ‘big boys don’t cry’ and that men should always be strong.

He added: “The biggest killer of men aged 18-49 is suicide. It’s been a real struggle for people of late, what with the pandemic and lockdowns. We’re trying to make the world a slightly better place and if we can just save one life then it is worth it.

“Mental health is very isolating as an illness. The more we isolate the less people may get in touch with us. Over the years I feel we have lost too many. Lots of people I have known have sadly died by suicide – too many. They were good Wrexham fans and good people and it’s really really sad. Everytime I saw this or heard this I got frustrated.

“When you look at the demographic of our football club, we have a lot of supporters in this age range. We are in the perfect place to be able to actually get that message out to people in an effective way.

“We never knew how well Dragon Chat was going to go but I think we’ve done really well, with it being online. We have probably seen about 25 people throughout the time we have been doing it and we have kind of got a regular six or seven people coming every week, which is excellent. Hopefully it’s something that can grow bigger and support more people.

“What we do is provide that platform to allow people to explore ways to help themselves. Dragon Chat lifts everyone’s spirits and then they are ready to go again into the next week. We share our own experiences as well. We have had some real success stories at Dragon Chat, which is fantastic.

“Before joining us, one of our members was really struggling with anxiety to the point that he couldn’t leave the house. I’m not saying it’s Dragon Chat that has done this but this member has gone on to become a mentor with a mental health charity, which is fantastic to see. Hopefully, we have played a little bit of a part with his confidence growing.

“The idea of Dragon Chat is that anyone can drop in, whenever they feel they need a session. It’s a safe place for people to talk about what’s going on for them. We always include a moment where we chat about something positive that’s happened in our lives too, even if it’s something like that person having got out of bed and made a cup of tea.

“We don’t offer advice. We are there to listen and if someone wants to come along, keep their mic and camera off and just watch rather than talk during their first visit to the group then that’s absolutely fine. We share our experiences and people talk about how they are struggling. We share what we have done that may have helped us.

“We also have a positive affirmation where we talk about what we are going to do in the next seven days to help ourselves or someone else, for example, doing some shopping for your mum or dad or calling your brother.

“Then we go on to Wrexham chat and reminiscing about the old times in Wrexham, our favourite cup games or who would be on our Wrexham dream team.”

The only topics that are off limits at the group are politics, religion and medication.

Good craic

Group volunteer Dave, a Wrexham AFC fan since 1976, said: “I enjoy the meetings. I come along to support Steve and I think this group is fantastic and it deserves as much attention as possible. We want to spread the word about Dragon Chat.

“I enjoy the banter – it’s good craic – and I’m hoping to support other people through the group.”

“If anyone reads this and isn’t sure about coming along then I would say ‘please, just make that first step. We’re good listeners – every single one of us’.”

Group member Leighton said he had got a great deal out of attending the sessions.

He said: “It’s daunting the first time you come but it’s not as daunting as it might seem. It really helps. I think it’s brilliant and I look forward to it every week.

“I always look forward to a Thursday night. We have a good laugh and we’re all good people. Steve’s top drawer – what he’s done here.

“If anyone reads this and isn’t sure about coming along then I would say ‘please, just make that first step. We’re good listeners – every single one of us’.

“We are all there to help each other at the end of the day. We are good friends already and some of us haven’t even met each other in person yet.

“This group has got to carry on – it’s so important.”

Steve added: “All I have done is started something. The group is what Dragon Chat is. It’s the sum of us all. People come along and take part. I just got it off the ground.

“I think Dragon Chat is only going to keep on growing. I would like to emphasis that the group is less formal than people might think it is. Obviously, it’s mental health support and people might think that it’s going to be really difficult. We bring what we want to bring to the meeting. We have football chat as well. It’s not full on intense stuff.”

Steve praised Wrexham AFC for its ongoing support of the group, including sharing a link on its website for anyone interested in coming along.

The group was co-founded by Steve with support from fellow Wrexham AFC fan and mental health campaigner Dan Rowe, who has also founded branches of men’s mental health charity, Andy’s Man Club. Steve said he hoped that a mental health support group for women could be set up at the club in future.

Heart of the community

“We would encourage all supporters to join Dragon Chat every Thursday night, should they need a safe place to talk about mental health and reminisce, and to share their favourite Wrexham AFC memories.”

A spokesperson for Wrexham AFC said: “Wrexham AFC are proud to be at the heart of our community, and among our co-chairmen’s guiding principles is reinforcing the values, traditions and legacy of this community.

“Steve Lloyd has volunteered tirelessly for the football club, and his efforts in setting up and maintaining the Dragon Chat community group – such a valuable asset when it comes to men’s mental health – is a source of great pride to us all.

“We would encourage all supporters to join Dragon Chat every Thursday night, should they need a safe place to talk about mental health and reminisce, and to share their favourite Wrexham AFC memories.”

The theme of this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day is ‘Creating Hope Through Action’, with a spokesperson for The Samaritans saying that the aim was for people to be empowered to share what helps them when they are experiencing difficult times, which could be anything from a cuppa with a friend to getting outside for a walk.

Latest figures from The Samaritans show that in 2019, more than 5,000 people died by suicide in England and Wales.

For more information on Dragon Chat, email DragonChat247@gmail.com or visit https://www.wrexhamafc.co.uk/news/2021/september/dragon-chat–join-this-weeks-mens-mental-health-peer-support-group-call/. Dragon Chat is also on Twitter at @DragonChat3.

Further sources of support

For support with mental health issues, Dragon Chat and Wrexham AFC advice people to contact their GP or local mental health support services.

Anyone in crisis due to mental health issues should contact emergency services or the NHS’s Community Advice and Listening Line (CALL) Helpline on 0800 132 737 – which is free and open 24 hours a day and seven days a week, all year round. They also offer a text support service, available by texting HELP to 81066. Their website is https://www.callhelpline.org.uk/.

The Samaritans are available 24/7 via their free helpline 116 123. They also have a Welsh language line which is 0808 164 0123 and they can be emailed via jo@samaritans.org. There is also a Samaritans app. For ore information on The Samaritans visit https://www.samaritans.org/.

Andy’s Man Club operate online support sessions, as well as face to face meetings at branches across the UK. For more information, visit https://andysmanclub.co.uk/.