'Men of the North' support group making a difference for men in La Ronge

A support group for men over the age of 18 is making an impact in a rural town in central Saskatchewan.

While the group may be in its infancy, founder Christopher Merasty says he's seeing it make an impact

Christopher Merasty said he initially doubted his idea to start a support group for men in La Ronge, Sask., but he's since seen it grow in popularity and now envisions it becoming a permanent part of the community. (Submitted by Christopher Merasty)

A new support group for men over the age of 18 is already making an impact in central Saskatchewan.

The group started by Christopher Merasty held its first meeting late January in La Ronge​​​​​​, located about 344 kilometres north of Saskatoon.

Meetings are hosted on Mondays at the Piwapan Women's Centre in La Ronge.

"The inspiration came from a fellow that was struggling when I bumped into him in the street, he came up to me, crying," Merasty told CBC Radio.

"He said that he had no place to go, no place to stay, he had no money to his name, and that kind of just clued into me that our men in our community need help."

Merasty said men would feel more supported by hearing another man sharing his personal experiences with difficult situations in life that they may be going through.

Men of the North strives to give them that platform, while it also looks to provide men a place to celebrate their successes.

Participants open up about a range of topics during the one-hour-long discussion groups. Merasty said he brings an idea to the table every week to spark conversation in the group. Last week, for example, they talked about addiction.

Ultimately, he said it's up to the men who attend to decide what they want to discuss, such as employment and relationships. At the next meeting, they plan to look at anxiety and depression.

But the conversations can extend beyond just where the group meets on Mondays.

"The men will come in and they'll start sharing. Some of them will break down and there'll be other men there to offer them support, that guidance, that wisdom," he said, adding in some cases people exchange contact information and agree to meet at another time to discuss what they're going through or what they've experienced.

Merasty said he hopes to see the group become affiliated with health professionals, which could give the men who need help access to it.

While the group is still in its infancy, Merasty said he's hearing nothing but good things and support for his cause. "It's just getting bigger and bigger," he said.

From a man who was feeling depressed and suicidal before the first meeting, who is now having less of those thoughts and feelings, to a youth who has noticed a change in his father who is attending meetings, Merasty said he feels like he's making a difference.

"It's working. I believe it's working. Even for myself, my step-son and I have no communication. He'll come home and go downstairs and play his video games, and me, I'm upstairs and busy working," Merasty said.

"Since I started this meeting, we've been communicating non-stop… it's working for myself."

Merasty said he'd like to see the meetings become a permanent fixture in La Ronge, and he is eyeing the possibility of bringing similar meetings to other communities in northern Saskatchewan.

With files from Saskatchewan Weekend