23 Dec 2022

Lads Without Labels

From Nine To Noon, 9:20 am on 23 December 2022

A free roast meal over a chat about mental health is on offer to all-male student flats in Christchurch by the not-for-profit group Lads Without Labels

The Canterbury University club was launched by students a couple of years ago to support young men's wellbeing, says current president Tom Vincent.

"As men, we're so terrible at talking to one another and [the founders] thought university was a great place to start doing that," he tells Susie Ferguson.

Lads Without Labels aims to set up university-age men with mental health strategies they can use for the rest of their lives, says Tom, an engineering student.

One way they provide this is via Flat Chats - a new initiative Flat Chats in which he and fellow club member Max Devonshire visit all-boys students' flats with a free roast meal from Pedros House of Lamb.

"We start chatting to them about talking to one another… you're at a time in your life where your flatmates and your friends are often your family… so if life is not going great or even if it's going well you need to be able to talk to those people around you."

Rather than conducting a group therapy session, Tom says the goal is to encourage the groups of young men to support each other - and talk about how they're feeling even while sober.

"We want to start the conversation and then leave and the conversation continues for an hour or hours after we leave and they can finally talk to one another."

Mental health campaigns often emphasise the importance of checking in with people, but Tom says he and Max - who've completed mental health first aid training - help the young men with how to actually go about this.

"As blokes, we're fantastic at giving the kneejerk response which is 'I'm good thanks, mate. How are you?'. Sometimes, as the support person, you need to be just probing a little bit more, asking a few more questions and provisioning support in that way.

"[We talk to them about how] to ask the right question without being too comforting or too harsh or not sounding sincere."

As well as Flat Chats, Tom and Max manage the Ugly Boys Running Club, which involves not only running but also yoga and strength conditioning.

Boys who were very physically active in high school can lose their way at university, Tom says, and training for a half or full marathon - as 60 of them did this year - is great motivation to keep active.

Lads Without Labels is fundraising for a free counselling service for Canterbury students to be launched in 2023. Tom says it will supplement the University's over-run support services.