Sometimes the problem brings the solution. Sometimes the people causing us pain unwittingly lead us to salvation. Let me explain.
Back in high school, I was at my lowest. I felt worthless, that nobody cared about me, that it probably wasn’t worth hanging around on the planet much longer. Then my ex-girlfriend, with who I was in a toxic relationship with at the time, referred me to headspace and that opened me up to start a real conversation about my mental health.
It’s a conversation that men need to have, but many still don’t. Many still endure depression and anxiety in silence, burdened by societal stigmas and preconceived ideas about men and their capacity to express feelings. For all our progress on the mental health front, many men still feel they’d be seen as weak to show emotions.
Men are more likely to use destructive mechanisms to cope with their mental health – drugs and alcohol and worse. Some quit the fight altogether.
The figures are still sobering. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among Australian males, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. In 2019 75 per cent of suicide deaths in this country were men, an increase of almost 2.5% in 10 years.
Research has consistently shown that men are less likely to seek help than women, with a 2007 survey finding that only 28% of males with a mental illness used services that were available to them compared to 40% of females.
Instead, they keep turning to their demons.
Men’s Health physiotherapist and co-host of the Penis Project Podcast Dr Jo Milios often talks about how men’s physical health can very much affect their mental health. “If men break down physically, they tend to immediately feel mentally challenged and the longer something goes on or the more broken they become physically they’re more broken emotionally,” he explains.
Dr Milios says honest discussions about mental health by high-profile athletes and personalities like Tom Boyd, Daniel Arzani and Michael Phelps are helping to encourage people to talk.
“People have visions of what success looks like. It is, you know, having that Brownlow medal around your neck or having an AFL premiership or, just playing sport at the elite level… And what happens when a sporting identity, is open and honest and they can account their own story and it just makes it real and tangible for the everyday guy…”
Men’s reluctance to start opening about their mental health has encouraged some fantastic individuals to create projects to promote starting a conversation.
One of the projects that are shedding a light on men’s mental health is the Shaka Project, which personal trainer and founder Sean Weir has created to encourage men too to talk about their mental health by creating a safe space, to start a conversation by using something that many of us have access to us clothing
“The idea behind the clothing is to just create a conversation starter between men and women about mental health,” Sean explains.
He says the Shaka Project partly grew out of his own experiences with mental health. “I went through my own issues when I was around my teenage years and I had a lot of, you know, bad times. I went through a bit of drug addiction and, suicidal thoughts and attempts,” he says.
The gym owner in Ballarat had raised money for mental health charities in the past but he says that he wanted to do something that would have some personal effect on people.
“The best thing to do was, create something that people can actually wear and that’s a sign that they have been through mental health issues or they know someone, or they are supporting someone, through mental health issues.”
There are many more projects just like The Shaka Project that are promoting mental health awareness in men. ‘It is ok to not be ok’ was started by three sisters who lost their brother to suicide, while ‘FIFO Zero’s mission is to eliminate suicide deaths in the FIFO industry.
Having these projects using alternative methods to start a conversation around men’s mental health is ensuring that mental health in men is finally getting the attention that It needs.
For me, it was not so much a project as a willing ear that lifted me out of my darkness. I will forever be grateful to headspace. Whatever gets men talking, whatever encourages people to listen, is not just about generating conversations – it is about saving lives.
I should know.
If you are struggling there is many people that are waiting for your phone call or even a message you can go to Beyondblue, headspace, lifeline or even men’s health line. Their number is available online and you can call 24/7