Falkirk-based pool project aims to give men Balls to discuss mental health issues

Ryan Baker decided to launch the Balls project after experiencing his own challenges with his mental health. Picture: Michael Gillen
Ryan Baker decided to launch the Balls project after experiencing his own challenges with his mental health. Picture: Michael Gillen

Getting men to open up and talk about how they’re feeling has long been a societal issue.

Pubs are often seen as a setting where ‘men can be men’ and perhaps share their more personal problems with a friend over a pint.

However, a new project is taking a different approach in an attempt to tackle mental health issues like depression and anxiety among the male population in Falkirk district.

Balls was launched six months ago at Sportsters in Falkirk by Ryan Baker as a way of offering men a chance to meet, play pool and have a soft drink or a cup of tea or coffee — but not alcohol — all while having a chat about the things going on in their lives.

Centred around a pool table, the weekly events offer a relaxed atmosphere to help give attendees the confidence to express their emotions to others who are perhaps experiencing similar difficulties. Father-of-two Ryan (39) was inspired to start the group after facing challenges of his own.

He said: “I have had a tough couple of years and struggled. I know what it feels like and I have male friends who have experienced depression and anxiety and seen the impact it has had on them.

“You feel alone but once you start talking about it you realise you are not the only one. In the past, men in Scotland have always been encouraged to ‘man up’ but we are slowly starting to talk about these issues more openly.

“Men need to know it is okay to talk — they won’t be judged. No one will think any less of them for having emotions. Don’t man up — meet up, catch up, open up and rise up.

“In 2017 there were 522 male suicides in Scotland, more than three times that for women. Everyone has been through an experience of losing a job, a relationship breakdown, losing a loved one, financial stress.

“Men don’t talk about what effect that has had on them and we try to just get on with it but that can sometimes have huge negative consequences.”

He added: “Although our meet-up is in a bar we don’t advocate using alcohol to solve your problems.

“Public bars have been the hub of communities in Scotland for centuries and one of the main environments for men where they feel they can talk and vent their worries, but with the decline in the number of local bars I feel that makes it difficult for the newer generations who now tend to sit in the house and drink alone when times get hard.

“This is just an opportunity for men to get together to play pool, have a chat about life and feel they have support.”

Although the Balls initiative only began last year, the project is already having an impact on participants and garnering interest.

Bannockburn man Ryan is determined to keep the weekly event going after receiving messages of support from people who have been left devastated by relatives or friends taking their own lives.

He continued: “I had a mum contact me whose son had committed suicide. It was heart-breaking to hear the story.

“She thinks the project is a great idea. She just wished her son had talked more about what he had been going through as no one had any idea he felt so bad.

“She thinks that having these opportunities of support will help guys realise there is not only one solution to the way they feel.

“By offering a space for guys to speak to other men who have been through similar life situations I am hoping this will have a ripple effect and get more men talking.

“They will realise they are not alone and everyone goes through tough times in life at some point but you will eventually get through it.”

Balls runs in Sportsters from 5pm every Monday, as well as at the Empire Bar, Bannockburn from 6pm on Tuesdays. For more details, email ryanbakerart@live.co.uk.