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

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On Wednesday nights between 7 and 9:30 p.m., a group of guys gathered at CrossFit Bearden in Knoxville, Tennessee, not to exercise, but to talk. They are 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 among men than among women. However, the organization also notes that men are less likely to receive treatment for any mental health issues and more likely to die by suicide. This raises the following question: Do men actually have low rates of mental health issues, or do they simply not report them?

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

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

The meetings, which are attended by about five to six men regularly, begin casually. The conversation begins naturally before guiding it in the direction of specific questions such as, “How was your week, mention two good things that happened, what you struggled with, and what [are you] “Doing that is the one thing you struggle with,” said Chris Schmitz, a coach at CrossFit Bearden who currently leads the club.

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

Currently, all the guys in the club are taking CrossFit classes at CrossFit Bearden. The two, both felt by Townsend and Schmitz, are a natural pair.

  • Inside CrossFit, We spend a lot of time training the body, but I think we should also train the mind. The surrender required to participate in a system like CrossFit is also about the surrender we must give to our thoughts and feelings. The two cannot function in isolation, Townsend said.
  • The ego prevents us from improving physical health. Putting in too much effort can result in us getting hurt or overtraining.”
  • The same can be said about mental health and fitness. The ego doesn’t allow us to dive too deeply… and so we can fail to make progress and deal with the things we need in our lives.”

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

Bottom line:Guys communicate very well, but generally about superficial things… Diving deeper helps reveal more about us and shows us that we are all very similar,” Townsend said.

  • He completed: The response we got [to the club] From our community, including partners, children and friends are wonderful, and many feel that such groups should be a necessity. If we can help someone through a difficult time, or even help someone improve their daily life, the group is successful.”

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