Men’s Mental Health: Community, Connection, and Canoeing
Over the last few uncertain and unprecedented years, there’s been a rise in mental health issues for all genders. However, though men suffer with mental health issues at similar rates to women, they’re statistically less likely to seek help. This can be due to society’s expectations, traditional gender roles, and stereotypes that make it more difficult for men to discuss their mental health with others. Yervana Locals Alex and Aaron Savatti want to see this change. They guide canoe trips with a focus on creating connection and community. Through these trips, they’ve been able to create spaces where men feel open to discuss and work to improve their mental health. We caught up with Alex and Aaron to chat about men’s mental health, connection, community, canoeing, and nature.
Journey into Guiding
Alex and Aaron both attended a canoeing camp during their summers growing up. Their time at camp allowed them to not only cultivate a love of the outdoors, but to also dig deep into themselves. Through attending canoeing camp, they were able to foster mental, spiritual and physical growth. They began to share these experiences with others when they started guiding canoeing expeditions. In turn, that ultimately led to the creation of their own guiding company. They realized that they could provide clients with the same growth and community they valued so much whilst growing up.
Community and Men’s Mental Health
Alex in particular is motivated by his own personal struggles with mental health. About seven years ago, he went through a period of severe depression. He had little motivation or capacity to take care of himself. He says that, “the thing that brought me out of that was nature, but really community in nature; building a community with people and nature. Getting to know the landscape and becoming very familiar with it. Getting to know the river as a living being.” Through spending time with that community, he met people who were open to talking about men’s health, which he didn’t realize existed.
Alex and Aaron’s trips are all open sign-ups, meaning that people often come as strangers and leave as friends. According to Alex, “the biggest thing in men’s health that’s missing is that they think they have to do it alone. Especially men! On trips we do it as a team.”
Image: Ali Kazal
Nature and Mental Health
There has been an increasing amount of research and acknowledgement given to the positive effects of nature in relation to mental health. Canada has even implemented a Parks Prescription Program, where those suffering from mental health issues and stress are prescribed time outside to mitigate their symptoms. In addition, forest bathing is becoming a more widely accepted form of therapy for mental health issues. Due to this, more guides and professionals are becoming creative with their approach to healing in nature.
“Nature is a mirror and a healing force. Trying to bring intention to that is so effective and conducive to growth.”
Nature and Community in the Backcountry
Alex explained that much of this growth out in nature actually happens naturally as participants are immersed in a new environment. This is because they’re able to get away from the distractions of their own busy lives. He says, “if you go back far enough, humans used to live more simply in the outdoors. It’s a unique experience to come back to that way of living. It allows you to discover a side of yourself you have never seen before.”
In the naturally therapeutic environment of the Ontario backcountry, the brothers decided to bring more attention to mental health on some of their trips. They even include a professional therapist on certain expeditions. They said they have seen men reluctant to participate in a trip leave with a renewed sense of community, purpose, and meaning in life.
Image: Alex and Aaron Savatti
Advice for Men Dealing with Mental Health Issues
When asked if Alex and Aaron had any advice for men struggling with their mental health, Alex’s first recommendation was to seek help. He advised to seek help both professionally, and within a community of men who are open to being vulnerable and listening.
He noted that a great way to do this is to find a men’s group in your area. In these groups, you can meet with a group of men to discuss what is happening in their lives, and provide support and guidance to one another.
“The biggest advice I have for men struggling with their mental health is to dismantle the idea that the lone wolf mentality has any value in getting you anywhere in your life. You do not have to go through it alone, nor should you.”
Get Out There, and Have Some Fun
Lastly, the brothers stress that not everything has to be so serious. Their canoe expeditions are not only about growth and learning, but are also about having fun and connecting to a more playful side of yourself. Allowing yourself to have fun and connect with people in your community is a healing experience in and of itself.
Ready for a paddle? Check out more canoe trips in Ontario below!
If you are struggling with your mental health, please seek help. You can find Canada-wide mental health resources on the Canadian Centre for Mental Health and Sport website.
ARTICLE WRITTEN BY