Rob Osman of Bristol, England, suffered from anxiety and depression since his 20s. The 38-year-old had hit rock bottom when he had no choice but to live in his sister’s basement. There were no windows, only enough weed for Osmond to forget his troubles. He managed to pull himself out of this descent and has been pursuing better health ever since.
“I’ve had demons throughout my life,” he said. “I still had suffered with depression since I lost my dad.”
In early 2019, he left his corporate job to focus on his family and his psychology and counseling degree. He also became a dog-walker.
Of all of the methods of relaxation he tried, Osman found the most healing in the simple act of walking Mali, his Hungarian Vizsla, or the other pups he exercised. This inspired him to create a group called “Dudes and Dogs”, a community that encourages men to walk dogs, get fresh air, and discuss their feelings.
“Talking helps. It really does,” Osman wrote on the “Dudes and Dogs” website. “It’s helped me no end, but sometimes as men, we aren’t the best at it. Well, Dudes & Dogs wants to change that for the next generation. There is no doubt things are changing. We want to be a part of that. By simply getting outside, talking things through, we can start to change our mood.”
The Beginning of “Dudes and Dogs”
The UK gets infamously rainy and cold, and Osman was in no mood to go out. Yet his dog didn’t care. She wanted to get outside and play, forcing her owner into fresh air and exercise.
“It’s been the best therapy I’ve ever had,” Osman said. This inspired him to form this community.
He began inviting his friends to join his walks with Mali. Sometimes they would talk and other times they’d simply enjoy the benefits of playing with a dog and walking outside. Osman began thinking about how he could expand this to reach more men.
“I’m not saying anything new when I say going into the fresh air makes you feel better,” said Osman. “Just the realization of just how beneficial that time with the dog has been.”
He describes that no matter how a person feels when they come home, the dog greets them with unwavering love that can make anyone smile.
Men and Mental Health
Men, in general, are more resistant to seeking treatment for mental health than women. In fact, a 2015 UK poll of 1,000 men found that 40% of men won’t talk about their mental health at all. Seventy-seven percent of the men suffered from anxiety, stress, and/or depression, with the highest pressures in their lives being work, finances, and health. Forty percent stated that it would take something big like suicidal thoughts and self-harm to make them seek help.
Why won’t they discuss their mental health? Here are just some of the reasons reported ranked from most to least important:
- “I’ve learned to deal with it.”
- “I don’t wish to be a burden to anyone.”
- “I’m too embarrassed.”
- “There’s a negative stigma around this type of thing.”
- “I don’t want to admit I need support.”
- “I don’t want to appear weak.”
- “I have no one to talk to.” 
Here’s the thing: Feelings of anxiety and depression are legitimate reasons to seek professional care. These cases already take up 30% of GPs’ time, and for good reason. A person’s mood can affect their productivity, their relationships, their world.
You deserve to live a healthy, happy, fulfilling life, unchained from depression and anxiety, and your family and friends would agree. Your wellbeing is not a burden to them or any medical practitioner, nor is speaking up a sign of weakness or a reason to be embarrassed. You deserve to have a better life, as do the hundreds of other people suffering in silence.
The Benefits of Dog-Walking
Besides giving men space away from people and into the fresh air, dogs can help them open up about how they are feeling.
“Dogs are like four-legged antidepressants,” Osman said. “When people are around the dog they drop their defenses. They play with the dog.”
Rustin Moore, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University agrees. “Walking a dog is a conversation waiting to happen,” he said to TODAY. “People come across the street to pet the dog and then you start having a conversation.”
Plus, interacting with animals can help people with autism, dementia, and PTSD. “People’s heart rate, their blood pressure go down as does stress hormones, such as cortisol, and actually there’s a feel good hormone called oxytocin that actually goes up,” said Moore. “It doesn’t even to be your own pet.”
Although this project is relatively new, Osman plans to bring in psychologists to train volunteers to encourage men to seek more help if they need it. He also plans to take this community into the U.S.
Overall, his goal is to normalize talking about feelings and mental health for men.
“It gives people the opportunity to realize that it’s not unusual to feel that way,” he said. “This is giving them a free space and a relaxed place to talk.” 
If you’re interested in joining this movement, check out the Facebook page for meetups or the official website for more information. Dudes and Dogs has teamed up with the University of Bristol to host a walk specifically for students at the Clifton Suspension Bridge on March 4. See more details here. Remember, you don’t need to have a dog to join!
As their mission statement reads: It’s not just okay to talk, it’s important.
- Rokas Laurinavičius and Li Nefas. Guy Sets Up A Dog-Walking Group For Men Who Need A Companion To Open Up About Their Problems. Bored Panda. https://www.boredpanda.com/dog-walking-group-encourage-men-to-talk-dudes-and-dogs/ February 22, 2020
- Priory. 40% of men won’t talk to anyone about their mental health. https://www.priorygroup.com/blog/40-of-men-wont-talk-to-anyone-about-their-mental-health
- Meghan Holohan. ‘Dudes and Dogs’ program aims to help men talk about mental health. Today. https://www.today.com/health/how-program-where-men-walk-dogs-helping-mental-health-t171471 January 9, 2020
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