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Knoxville Gym Starts Man’s Club to Get Men Talking about Mental Health

December 14, 2021 by
Photo Credit: CrossFit Beardon (facebook.com/CrossFitBearden)
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On Wednesday nights between 7 and 9:30 p.m., a group of men gathers at CrossFit Bearden in Knoxville, TN, not to work out, but to talk. They are a part of the Knoxville Man’s Club, a safe space created by owner Joseph Townsend for men to talk about mental health. 

The big picture: According to the National Institute of Health, the prevalence of mental illness is lower in men than women. However, the organization also reports that men are less likely to receive treatment for any mental health issues and are more likely to die by suicide. This raises the question: Are men actually experiencing lower rates of mental health issues, or are they simply not reporting them?

  • “I have been working with a therapist for over two years and struggled with my mental health for five-six years prior,” Townsend said. “Once I began talking about [my mental health] I realized that it wasn’t something that men do often or do very well.”
  • I wanted to start our men’s club to give men an opportunity to talk and listen. To see that we generally have the same thoughts and feelings and that no problems are too big or too small to work through,” he continued.

The club: The Knoxville Man’s Club started in early 2021, just with members of CrossFit Bearden. In September, they opened meetings up to the community. 

The meetings, which have about five to six men who attend regularly, begin casually. Conversation starts naturally before being steered in the direction of set questions like, “How was your week, name two good things that occurred, what’s one thing you’re struggling with, and what [are you] doing about that one thing you’re struggling with,” said Chris Schmitz, a coach at CrossFit Bearden who is currently leading the club. 

  • “The tone of each meeting is different. Sometimes we share more openly, and other times it may not come as easily. But over time, I do think we have come to share more and more,” Schmitz continued.
  • I think when one person opens up it subconsciously gives permission for others to open up or relate to the issue at hand. We made it very clear that it is a safe space… but it still takes a while for people (especially men) to open up and talk about things going on in their lives,” Townsend said. 

Currently, all men in the club take CrossFit classes at CrossFit Bearden. The two, both Townsend and Schmitz feel, are a natural pair. 

  • “Within CrossFit, we spend so much time training the body, but I believe that we also must train the mind. The surrender needed to participate in a discipline like CrossFit also relates to the surrender we must give to our thoughts and feelings. The two cannot act in isolation,” Townsend said.  
  • Ego prevents us from improving physical health. Doing too much can lead to us getting hurt or overtraining.”
  • “The same can be said for mental health and fitness. The ego doesn’t allow us to dive deep… and so we can fail to make progress and deal with the things in our lives that we need to,” he continued.

Schmitz added: “CrossFitters tend to stick with their gyms for a long time and you get to know each other at a surface level, and sometimes a little deeper, in the classes. And this has been a great way to build on those relationships and get to know each other better.”

The bottom line: “Men communicate very well, but generally about surface things… diving deeper helps us reveal more about us and shows us we are all very similar,” Townsend said.

  • He continued: “The response we got [to the club] from our community, including partners, children, and friends is great, with many feeling such groups should be a necessity. If we can help someone through a rough time, or even help someone improve their day-to-day life, then the group is a success.”

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