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MMA fighter’s ‘stupid idea’ is helping break taboo of male suicide


A former MMA fighter’s ‘stupid idea’ of running 29K on his 29th birthday has opened up a new platform for ‘strong men’ – who feel they are not allowed to speak about mental health issues – to share their struggles.

Suicide is now the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK – with 84 taking their own lives every week. Most of those men were never diagnosed with mental health issues and suffered in silence.

Social pressure and norms suggesting men should be ‘strong and silent’ stops many from seeking help, which is something ex-professional fighters Chris Baugh and Charlie Watts are standing up against.

Charlie ‘the Ox’ Watts is fighting to get men to speak about mental health issues (Picture: Manor)

‘We are ex-athletes and ex-fighters and we are aware that we are seen as “strong men” and people have ideas about what that means. We want to show that you can be a fighter and you can beat people up, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have your own struggles,’ Chris said.

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The two men, who founded Manor gyms across London, have now turned into hobby charity workers, amateur therapists and the faces of a campaign telling men to be strong but not silent.

Chris, also known as ‘the Bull’, told Metro.co.uk how it all started: ‘Charlie turned 29 in August and decided to run 29K for his birthday – he had never run more than 10K, so it was just stupid – but he decided to raise money for it, and he chose Calm (the Charity Against Living Miserably).

‘He ended up raising about £1,000 in like a day, and he did his run and when all of us were talking about it at work, we said “you’re really stupid, why did you run that far?”, “why did you wake up at 4am on your birthday and leave your kids and wife and decide to go on a run?”‘

He added: ‘But as we started talking about Calm, and why they exist and what they do, which is to provide this helpline for men at night-time, we realised it’s quite a unique idea.

Former professional boxer Chris ‘the Bull’ Baugh launched the campaign to help men in distress and prevent suicide (Picture: Manor)

‘A lot of us, the coaches and members feel quite strongly about the issues of male depression and male suicide, and a lot of us have been affected.

‘A lot of us have lost friends to suicides, some of us have recovered from mental health issues and we realised this is something we believe in, and we should do something about.’

And after Charlie, also known as ‘the Ox’, a man so strong he can lift more or less anyone with one hand, shared a vulnerable black and white picture of the campaign on Instagram saying he was ‘standing up for men speaking out’, professional athletes, rugby players, celebrities and TV personalities joined in.

Chris added: ‘The purpose of the campaign was as much about leading by example and see if it has any effects, as it was about some grand plan to change the world. We’re not so arrogant to think that would happen.’

Charlie said he picked Calm after speaking to coaches, including Ryan Lea, about male suicides (Picture: Manor)

Charlie, who retired as an MMA fighter four years ago, said he chose Calm after ‘someone mentioned it on Instagram’.

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He added: ‘I checked out their website, and [male suicide] is an epidemic in the UK. I personally know some people who have committed and having spoken to one of trainers who knows 20 people who have committed suicide, I chose them.’

And now, people they never have met before contact them over Instagram to share ‘horrendous stories’ about depression, abuse and lost ones to the team.

Chris said: ‘When you touch a nerve in someone who’s suffering in silence they gravitate to you. These people won’t go to a therapist, because we’ve asked them, but they’re messaging a brand, who they have never met, just because in their eyes we’ve taken a stand.’

They both agreed the process had been very ’emotional’, adding: ‘All we can do is signpost, we’re happy these people have reached out, it has allowed us to add our voice to the many others, who are no doubt saying “speak to somebody”, and they seem to want to listen to us since they’re contacting us.

Greg Wootton, former professional Thai boxer and two time world champion got involved in the campaign (Picture: Manor)

‘It’s an honour, but it’s also very challenging when people look to you for answers, and we don’t have them, you always feel like you want to do more.’

He added that the process has had a big effect on the team, who regularly ‘take it out’ in the boxing ring, but are now being more open with each other.

Charlie, who admitted he had always struggled to communicate, added: ‘If it’s one thing this campaign has taught me it’s that it’s okay to not be okay and it will make you feel better if you do share.’

Manor now hosts regular group workouts before ‘strong and powerful’ speakers share their stories to urge men to speak up about their struggles. They also hold charity boxing events and have designed a T-shirt in collaboration with Lululemon – where all the money raised goes to Calm.

Manor host regular ‘fight nights’ where the men train together before a panel starts a conversation to urge them to speak about their struggles (Picture: Manor)

CEO at Calm Simon Gunning said: ‘It’s great to see men in the traditionally “macho” boxing community showing that speaking up about how you feel and asking for help is a sign of strength.

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‘CALM stands for the Campaign Against Living Miserably, so this project epitomises everything we’re about: getting together around a shared passion, looking after yourself and each other, and providing a collective safe space for learning and communication.’

Speaking about the events Chris said: ‘We get really good personal questions, at the last event we had a person saying “I’m a professional footballer and I don’t know what I’m gonna do when I retire, and I’m scared, I feel like I’m going to be less of a man.

‘They share this really personal struggle they have, and they go “what do I do?”. But we’re not the ones to come up with the answers, we’ve been really clear about that, we’re not the professionals here, but by people sharing their struggles and saying it out loud is like a massive realisation.’

When asked why some men find it difficult to speak up, Charlie said: ‘I think it’s a difficult time to be a man now where there is a lot more plurality.

All the money raised from the events goes to Calm (Picture: Manor)

‘You can be a different kind of man, which is beneficial for things like this where the decrease in the stigma surrounding things like being homosexual or transgender, or having a creative side, or being a bit feminine, traditional identities are now much less set, men have a lot more choice about how they want to express themselves.

‘But it also means they don’t have a clear template of how to be. That can cause confusion.

‘I don’t think the situation is any worse than it’s been, I think we’re just talking about it now if anything I think men speak more now than they have in the past.’

Manor final charity boxing night of the year takes place on Thursday 15 November, before they take a break over Christmas to plan future campaigns and what Charlie can do for his 30th birthday to live up to this year.

Chris concluded: ‘It’s just as tough to be open and honest as it is to fight. It’s not a weak thing to open up and communicate.’





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