THE founder of a Helensburgh-based peer support group has hailed a new link-up with HMNB Clyde to provide wellbeing sessions for Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel.

John Lewis, who set up Males Tales two years ago, has welcomed the partnership between his charitable organisation and the base which will see bi-weekly “Safe Guard” sessions run in the chaplaincy, as well as sessions in the Drumfork Centre for Naval families in the community.

A member of the Royal Navy himself, John - who is also a fully qualified life coach and hypnotherapist - acknowledged the quality of support services already on offer at Faslane, but said the emphasis of the new sessions will be on education and early intervention, rather than treatment.

By adopting this proactive approach, the hope is that problems can be solved before those suffering with poor mental health reach the stage of requiring professional help.

“The mental health support for people on the base is actually phenomenal,” John told the Advertiser, “if you compare it to what we’ve got outside the base.

“Access to a GP is almost instant, they can give them referrals to mental health specialists, psychiatrists etc. If it’s an emergency, they’re seen within 24 hours. If it’s general assessment, they’re probably seen within a few weeks. The average in the UK for that sort of thing at the moment is 15 months.

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“What we’re trying to do with this new team is educate people about wellbeing so that they can self-promote positive wellbeing which will hopefully stop them getting to the stage where they need to go and see a professional.

“Hopefully that will act as first stage intervention because some people just need to talk to someone, they don’t need to go down the full mental health professional route.

“Up until I came in that was all they had on the base, if you feel really low you can have a word with your line manager, but they’re not trained, so then you can go and see a doctor and from there you get referred.

“It is really quick and it is really good but we’re trying to put something in place so that we can self educate people about positive wellbeing and then they don’t have to go to that level.

“If people do want to go further we can offer help and a chat, and hopefully that’s enough to put people back on the right pathway.”

With an initial two years to make a success of the project, John is hoping that the wraparound service now on offer for Navy personnel makes a real difference at a crucial time.

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He said: “My side of it is maybe a bit late in the day, it’s something we should’ve done years ago but that seems to be a cultural thing at the moment, the world seems to be playing catch up with mental health.

“I don’t think it’s the case that the Navy or the submarine service have got a worse issue than any other organisation in the UK, I just think it’s a cultural shift and people are talking about it more.

“The focus is on educating people on how they achieve their own positive wellbeing, even just down to the importance of a good sleeping routine, hygiene and sport - basic things, because some people don’t realise how much that affects them.

“Human beings have down days but some people who’ve got poor mental health issues have one down day and they automatically think ‘oh no, that’s it starting again, here we go’. Their one down day can spiral them out of control.

“We want to educate them to say they don’t have to go down that route, they’ll have up days and down days, that’s just normal life.”

With the impact of Males Tales continuing to grow, sister organisation Females Tales - which is a family affair with John’s wife, Meresa, involved along with their 18-year-old daughter, Ellie - has also had a successful first eight months in operation.

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Meresa said: “I hope that they’re getting some relief from coming along to the meetings, just knowing that someone is there to listen and support them with what they’re going through.

“There’s obviously something we’re doing right because they keep coming back.

“When John set up Males Tales I’ve always been there in the background, I’ve always supported him. Seeing what he’d done and the difference he’d made I thought ‘I’d like to do this’.

“It’s been massive for me if I’m honest, I get a lot from it. It’s probably the same for the other ladies as it is for me, it’s good to know that we’re all in it together. I’ve had issues throughout my life and just being able to talk and do training and understand it a bit more has really helped.”

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