George Glover is no stranger to a challenge.
As a teenager, the University of Canterbury student made history by swimming the equivalent of five Cook Straight crossings in just 10 days. More recently, he was part of a team that played 24 hours of nonstop backyard cricket, and at the end of last year he took part in a running event where he ran a total of 72 kilometres over three days.
His motivation? Raising money and awareness for men’s mental health.
George is the president of Lads Without Labels, a student-led, student-focused mental health and wellbeing initiative at Canterbury University. It was formed in 2020, and despite being a relatively new name around campus, the not-for-profit charity has the backing of the student community, with thousands of people taking part in events set up to break the stigma around men’s mental health.
“Our mission is to get as many people that need help through the door as we can, whether it’s to see a counsellor, or get them seeking further education around mental health…just so they can know and understand how to look after themselves,” says George.
The club recently started Flat Chats, an initiative that offers students a free roast meal and a chance to sit down and have a conversation about mental health. The aim is to keep the conversation as real and free-flowing as possible, says George.
“It starts with asking, ‘what does good mental health look like for you?’. Everyone goes around and says their piece, and the conversation just goes from there.”
The initiative has helped reach people with no prior association to the club, creating a ripple effect in terms of impact.
When it comes to maintaining wellbeing, George suggests keeping it simple.
“Brush your teeth, eat as healthy as you can, exercise, shower, go to the toilet, and shave. As long as you’re doing the basic things, it always makes you feel a bit better.”
Club vice-president Aki Shimahara says opening up about mental health challenges can feel uncomfortable at first, but it does get easier.
Her motivation for joining the club comes from overcoming her own mental health challenges, as well as seeing her friends go through it.
“My big thing is equity and inclusion. Everyone should have access to go and talk to someone.”
While the club’s focus is helping students on campus, George and Aki are working to expand its reach to benefit more men in the community.
In August the Lads Without Labels will host a fundraising night aimed at encouraging conversations across Ōtautahi Christchurch. Last year ex-All Blacks Coach Sir Steve Hansen, and 2021 Young New Zealander of the Year Jazz Thornton spoke at the event, sharing their personal stories about wellbeing.
While this year’s speakers are yet to be unveiled, George says it’s going to be a night to remember.
“It’s about pulling people in from outside the sphere of our own friend groups and widening that impact,” he says.
“We want people to know it’s ok to be vulnerable at times. After all, we’re only human.”
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