Big River Canoe Club on the North Coast recently ran M.A.D. (Men Against Depression) Paddlers. An initiative aimed to provide men, aged between 35 and 60, with a series of opportunities to connect socially with other men, whilst also being physically active and enjoying the outdoors together. MAD Paddlers aimed to bring a group of up to 16 men together and have them work in teams of two to complete a series of scenic, but challenging, paddles in the Clarence Valley area.
Double ocean skis were the watercraft used for MAD Paddlers. The use of two-man boats helped create a team environment and assist with social connections. It also allowed more competent paddlers to be teamed up with less experienced paddlers, resulting in all crews being of roughly equal speed and abilities. This ensured a more enjoyable experience for everyone.
MAD Paddlers was planned to be run over three consecutive weekends. The first two sessions were held in Grafton, where participants got to know each other, learned basic paddling skills and built up their paddle endurance. On the second weekend, the guys paddled over 10km around Carrs Island.
Heavy rains and local flooding forced us to postpone the third and final session of MAD Paddlers. When we were finally able to safely run the final session, the group headed out to Lawrence to explore Sportsmans Creek and the Everlasting Swamp National Park. This paddle was a bit more of a challenge for the MAD Paddlers, and offered a kind of “expedition” feeling, which was a great experience for everyone that was able to come along. Unfortunately, the postponement meant that a few of the participants were unable to attend due to other commitments.
Each week, someone shared a small snippet of their own life story and how they have learned to deal with challenges. The plan was not to create a “woe is me” atmosphere, but to let the participants know that it is ok to not feel ok, that they are not alone in their struggles, and that help is available. Group organisers modeled being open and honest about personal and mental health issues and encouraged discussion where appropriate.
Some of the discussions included:
an insight from a local doctor into men’s mental health (or ill health, as he puts it!)
supporting family members with mental health issues and being reminded that it is important to look after yourself while you support others. A key point was that your personal support does not necessarily have to come from a professional counsellor. It can be as simple as making time to do the things that you enjoy…. like going for a paddle with a mate.
During the program, participants were made aware of the range of local and national mental health support services available to them and how to access them. MAD Paddlers fostered and enhanced social connections by bringing men together, and providing opportunities to share and discuss issues that are affecting them in a safe, relaxed environment.
Perhaps even more important than the paddling, was the fact that the guys went to a local cafe after each event, where they continued to develop their social connections and share their stories.
MAD Paddlers was made possible through the Our Healthy Clarence (OHC) Community Access grant program. This was funded by Healthy North Coast through the North Coast PHN program which is linked to the Commonwealth Department of Health National Suicide Prevention Trial.
Some of the feedback from the participants includes:
“The best mental health program that I have attended”
“Heading to the café after the paddles, provided me with an opportunity to get to know the other guys better. As I don’t drink coffee or go to the pub, it made me realise that I don’t often hang out with blokes and just chat.”
“I appreciated the opportunity to participate in the paddling sessions with the opportunity to meet some new people in a relatively non-threatening environment. New people and new situations can be confronting for me but I found the interactions and discussions about life situations and issues to be helpful and enjoyed the camaraderie amongst the participants. I wasn’t sure how I would cope physically or mentally but found paddling with the group to be helpful in both these areas.”
“I hope, all being well, to continue paddling with my wife in our own kayak but also with members of the group when possible and to that end hope to join the canoe club in the next few weeks if possible. I really appreciated having access to such great gear and helpful advice and look forward to meeting for another paddle session when the opportunity arrives.”
“When a friend of many years mentioned the Mad Paddlers I saw it as an opportunity… to meet new people and hopefully find a new interest. While my initial motivation for undertaking the Mad Paddlers was to help my brother I also found the experience very beneficial and I have met some great people.”
“I got a lot out of MAD paddlers. I see that everyone has a story. Sometimes you lose sight of this. Also met some great new people and tried some cool new boats and visited some areas I have not seen before.”
“MAD paddlers was a classic way to immerse fellers into the mighty Clarence – just being on the water in a yak facilitated time to not only get to know blokes, but to also have meaningful conversations with blokes.”
Some participants have continued to paddle with the club on Saturday mornings, which is great as the guys are staying connected and physically active.
The participants, along with their friends and family are also being encouraged to rise to the challenge of the Clarence 100. This is a three day paddle event between Compmanhurst and Yamba, covering 106km of magical waterways. The Clarence 100 can be embarked on as an individual, or as a team. Committing to enter the Clarence 100 will give MAD Paddlers participants a specific challenge to look forward to and train for.
– Gavin Rayward