There’s a new local initiative forging authentic connections between men

There’s a new local initiative forging authentic connections between men

Gabe McClelland

“Hey Mate is a community of men that strive to be better; for each other, for themselves, for their community and beyond.”

If Gabe McClelland had a tagline it would be “be a man of more words”. A simple, yet profoundly far-reaching motto that has led him from running club co-creator, to founder of Hey Mate, a safe online space for men to chat without judgement.

Having dealt with his own mental health battles during his teens and early twenties, Gabe knows firsthand just how challenging it can be for men to chat. The stigmas surrounding vulnerability, seeking help and ‘not having your shit together’, permeate our culture and deny many men the opportunities they need for connection. For Gabe, sharing his struggles on a friend’s podcast (The Steph Sanzaro Podcast) was the first domino in what has now become a worldwide conversation about men’s mental health.

The second domino came at his running club The FINISHR when Gabe says he anxiously shared his story to a pack of joggers and friends. A regular Sunday morning out at Bells Beach, sweaty palms and a lot of deep breaths, and Gabe says he could feel his passion playing its role.

“From that day I made a commitment to myself and the men in my life that I was going to become a man of more words.”

Fast forward to 2020 and COVID-19 hits. No more pack running. No more community gatherings. There was a newfound emptiness, a dry bank where conversation once flowed. But like the endurance man he is, Gabe started brainstorming ways to reinvigorate the space and get men talking again. And so, Hey Mate was born.

“It’s imperative to create and hold a safe space for any man to chat. It’s in these safe spaces that the voices of any man in our communities can be heard clearly and without judgment. The support of one another both binds us together as a group, while also allowing each of us to move forward on our personal pursuits with confidence,” Gabe says.

Using everyone’s favourite video meeting app, the first group – fourteen men from across Australia – gathered to talk. In a time when the world was struggling so intensely, creating this safe haven was a vital moment of relief. Word travelled quickly and now, seventy sessions and five months later, Gabe facilitates four sessions each week that all book out within the hour.

So what is it about these sessions that keep people coming back? And what exactly goes on during the call? Gabe says whatever assumptions you make, they are probably wrong.

“Every man should expect to feel welcomed, supported, valued and heard. Probably have a few laughs too – and meet some other great guys… My role as the facilitator is not to give advice or give answers, however my role is to guide the conversation allowing space for other men to share thoughts with one another. I enjoy being a vehicle to conversation and empowering men to share, or not share.”

Despite the heavy statistics stacked against men (men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women) the tide does seem to be turning with greater awareness and understanding of mental illness. Initiatives like Hey Mate normalise conversations around men who seek help, men who are medicated, and men who are vulnerable. Gabe likens it to a ripple that then flows into further spaces; one he hopes will have a lasting effect on both participants and the broader community.

“[My hope is] that any man is encouraged to be his authentic self and to discover any untapped potential. For these men to challenge their own assumptions. To get comfortable within the discomfort and to amplify the connection to others and also to self.”

In this paradoxically disconnected world, sharing space with authenticity, camaraderie and honesty is a rare find – the power of which is not going unnoticed. With a growing community around the world, Gabe has plans to bring on a few more facilitators as well as branch out into workshops, facilitations and events within schools, sporting environments and the workplace.

“I have also developed the concept for an app and working closely with some designers to make this vision come to life. The cost is enormous so [we’re] trying to navigate this and find some potential partners/sponsors.

With Gabe the helm, the tiny seed that was Hey Mate has shot up to the vibrant community it is today in just five months. It speaks to the commitment, passion and skill he brings to each session. As do all the participants. We can only guess what it will look like in the months and years to come, but one thing’s for sure… it’s gonna be big.

To learn more about Hey Mate, or to sign up for an online meeting, click here.
To follow Gabe’s journey on Insta, click here.