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The Stuff We Don’t Talk About: Men’s Mental Health

Matt Harvey

It’s the conversation you shy away from and don’t want to start.

As a man, not only is there a stigma against sharing your feelings and emotions but anxiety can often hamper you from disclosing personal information.

It’s falsely ingrained in most of our minds that if we need help from others it’s a sign of weakness and we are less of a person. Think about the different influences you had growing up on the playground, during P.E. class or sports and spending time with your mates outside of school.

On the way to becoming men we are given messages to be independent and strong and let our emotions out physically. These messages can carry on to our workplace with banter in the office or on the jobsite. We’re also taught not to burden others with our own problems like somehow that’s admitting defeat; that you can’t survive without the help of others.

The problem with this thought pattern is that it can incubate mental illness and related symptoms such as ruminating, distress, negative automatic thinking and hopelessness. One major issue that research has shown is that there is a lack of understanding and knowledge about mental health in Australia.

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Believe it or not, you might be that one person someone feels comfortable enough to talk with. If you don’t know all of the answers right away, don’t panic. You’ve already made a difference by listening.

Brendan Maher, the General Manager of R U OK?, an organisation dedicated to giving people the tools to start meaningful conversations, sheds some light on the topic.

“There’s no question it’s a challenge for blokes (to open up). We live in a culture where men choose to not show their feelings, particularly when they’re struggling…whereas I think women are better at expressing their vulnerability. If men hit rough patches we’re meant to be tough and put on a stoic veneer pretending we’re okay,” says Brendan.

“There’s also a sense of caution out there for blokes that if they disclose they have a mental illness it might be career limiting. What might be the implications for my job and my capacity to provide for myself or my family?”

“[Overall] I think fear is a big factor. Having a safe environment and the trust to disclose you’re not doing well can help us get back on track.”

But, as Brendan says, you don’t have to have a mental illness to struggle. Things like relationship difficulties, losing someone and job loss can all lead to emotional difficulties.

“Although some of us are better at opening up, showing weakness or vulnerability is an ongoing challenge for guys, although we have come a long way. This is relevant in our capacity to ask for help,” says Brendan.

Carrie Leeson, the CEO of Lifeline Canberra adds that around 40% of the calls received by Lifeline are from males, in comparison 60% are from females.

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“This does demonstrate that females are more likely to seek help when in crisis,” says Carrie.

“In context of the statistic that two thirds of the lives lost to suicide are males, it is imperative that we find more ways to engage and communicate hope and help seeking behaviour. This would assist individuals, males in particular, in opening up.”

Martin Fisk, the CEO of Menslink, stresses the importance of changing our culture and sending young men the message to “Kick the Silence”.

“I think, as a result of genetics and biology and also our overwhelming culture, guys are competitive and afraid of showing any form of weakness. For example, if you look at a schoolyard and see a young boy doing something where they show weakness or embarrassing just wait… you’ll soon see bullies arriving and weighing in telling them how terrible how they are,” says Martin.

“[Evidently] there’s this huge stigma around mental illness or simply things that go wrong in life whether it’s being bullied, relation breakdown, losing a job, not making a team or doing bad on a test.”

Martin says that in this culture men are afraid that if they admit weakness in one area of their life, they’re a total failure – and that’s extremely damaging.

“At Menslink, we’re trying to change that culture around through our public forums and education sessions, mentorship program, private counselling sessions and social media to try and teach our youth that Normal people… successful people…face failure all the time. Just because something’s gone wrong in your life doesn’t mean you’re a failure. What’s really important is that we talk about it. It’s like that old adage: a problem shared is a problem halved.”

Where to go? 

Tristan Metcalfe, a previous volunteer with beyondblue shares some helpful tips and resources if you think you may be experiencing a mental illness.

Online

Websites, such as mantherapy.org.au and eheadspace.org.au are a great start to give you some information about mental illness, and some useful statistics.

Phone

If you want to talk to someone about what you’re going through, Lifeline and beyondblue both offer telephone counselling 24/7, staffed by clinically trained people.

 

You can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 and beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

beyondblue also has a webchat from 3pm til midnight every day of the year, again staffed by clinically trained people.

In person

For younger men, headspace has a presence in Canberra for those between 12 and 25.

NewAccess is available for people 18 years and over and is located at Capital Health Network (formerly known as ACT Medicare Local). People in the ACT can self-refer by calling 6287 8066 and speak to the Central Intake team to make an appointment with an Access Coach.

One of the best options available is to speak to your GP. They can talk to you about options close to you, and develop a Mental Health Plan, which entitles you to have ten visits to a counsellor covered by Medicare.

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Through the lens

I was fortunate to meet with Ben Martin, a Canberra local who works for the AIDS Action Council in the ACT. Ben, 27, provides a glimpse of what it’s like living with mental illness and speaking up.

“Even though I wasn’t sure what it was [at the time], I first experienced depression when I was 15. I believe depression and other mental health issues can often be a combination of both genetics and environmental factors,” says Ben.

“During high school I wasn’t sure how I fit in and knew I was different because of my sexuality, which made me feel isolated. I couldn’t tell my peers about it and I didn’t feel confident in asking other people for help or telling them how I felt.”

“I attempted suicide just before my sixteenth birthday. Since then I’ve experienced bouts of depression on and off throughout my life ranging from mild to severe. The most major depressive episodes for me have been triggered by relationship breakdowns, and I believe any kind of major loss in a person’s life can often be one of the key triggers for depression,” says Ben.

After recently being admitted to hospital with severe depression, Ben knew it was time to begin taking more control over his mental health.

“It can be hard at first to admit that you’re experiencing any kind of mental issue but one thing you can count on is yourself. You’re always going to be the only person who can take those first steps and you are strong enough. The more open you are the better it will be.”

Ben’s advice for people who are dealing with mental illness

  • Make a decision to be brave and honest.
  • Find a person you trust the most and feel closest to and just be honest. Tell them how you feel.
  • Accept that some people are really great at giving advice on mental health issues and some aren’t. This is about you, not them. So don’t feel down or defeated if you don’t get the exact advice or support you were looking for. Keep searching for the support that works best for you.
  • Everyone is different. Find what it is that helps you, and when you do stick with it. For me it’s a combination of the gym, healthy eating, meditation, therapy, friends and trying new things. Figure out what works and what doesn’t.
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Matt Harvey

Matt is a Canadian born ice-hockey player, who originally found his way to Canberra to play for the CBR Brave. He is a published author and is currently finishing a Masters degree in Counselling Psychology. When he’s not writing or playing hockey he enjoys cycling, playing tennis, watching Netflix, and checking out the nightlife in Canberra. On weekends he enjoys his coffee in Kingston and making pancakes with copious amounts of maple syrup. More about the Author

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