Bradley Foxlewin engaged the room with a powerful and moving presentation. His focus was on improving mental health services for boys and men, in particular those recovering from from trauma. He emphasised the important role the environment has in healing men. Supportive relationships and a sense of belonging within communities can alleviate the alienation that men face when they experience mental illness. Bradley pointed out that young men who feel isolated by traumatic experiences, try to live up to the traditional masculine stereotype of handling issues alone, which only increases their alienation.
Bradley’s stressed how co-regulation can support trauma recovery. He used the example of when a parent matches a child’s affective expression, it allows the child to feel acceptance, understanding and empathy. His expertise and viewpoints come from his own lived experience of having childhood trauma and suffering depression at different stages of his life. Bradley explained how at one point, when he had lost trust in the human world, it a relationship with his horse which helped him transition out of emotional dysregulation – through co-regulation with another being.
His belief that relationships and co-regulation can help men to open up and talk about their issues and seek help for mental illness lead to his role as a youth worker, and to helping men who have survived sexual assault. He started initiating relationships with the wider community, encouraging men to find ‘new brothers’. He became the co-ordinator of the Young Men’s Support Network which was also a self therapy for him because he developed supportive relationships.
Interestingly, Bradley compared the road to trauma recovery to the game of snakes and ladders. The more you climb up the ladder, the more you are visible, and the more you do not want people to see all of you. Then you cope with this by sliding down and using drugs and alcohol or self-harm. Bradley himself explained how he became re-traumatised several times throughout his life and how difficult it was to cope when he lost his sense of belonging and community.
Bradley talked about how relationships and communities can help cement identities for men. Having people accept you without judgement and allowing others to be vulnerable is important for men and women to help other men with mental illness. He walks the talk by telling his story, which seems to give other men to open up without judgement or blame.