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When It Comes To Their Brains, Aussie Blokes Are In Bad Shape

But there are solutions at hand for improving the mental and emotional wellbeing of Australia’s men.

In the lead-up to Men's Health Week from June 10-16, 2019, the mental-health stats for our guys are grim. One in five men has depression; one in eight has anxiety. According to the Australian Men’s Health Forum:

  • Three-quarters of suicides in Australia are male – that’s six men every day;
  • The number of male suicides has risen by some 40 percent in the past 10 years;
  • Suicide is the number one killer of men under 45.

Male suicide appears to be different from female suicide. For example, only some 44 percent of male suicides are specifically related to a mental illness, while it’s some 63 percent among females.

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The factors for male suicide seem to be more social than psychological, with strong links found to relationship breakdowns, child custody conflicts, and job loss or underemployment.

Men seem more blown around and away by the winds of change -- be it in our families or our factories. We can get lonely, isolated and fall into some deep doo-doo.

The news isn’t much better when we look at what we’re doing about the ‘dude disaster’. For example, the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan -- the first one ever developed in Australia -- is ‘gender neutral’ and barely acknowledges men as being especially susceptible.

Though they’re easily the ones more likely to die by suicide, only some 40 percent of the people seeking help from crisis telephone line Lifeline are men.

And there are only a handful of programs specifically targeted towards male mental health and suicide prevention, such as MensLine Australia, Mates in Construction, and HALT; and only the first one is national and sits across all industries.

Sheesh.

At this point, some of you might go for the prevalent reaction: men need to get better at talking about their emotions. That seems to be what many of us are currently encouraged to do by the hype. And, sure, it’s a good thing to do, whether it’s to partners, mates or professionals.

However, the truth is that it’s not something many men are that comfortable doing. Call it culture or biology, but shaming them into ‘better behaviour’ through accusations of ‘toxic masculinity’ just won’t work.

Current experience and research show a different picture. For example, whereas studies show that women nominate ‘talking to someone’ more frequently as a response to depression, men mostly nominate eating better, exercising and staying busy. Leading psychologist Jordan B Peterson gives some simple advice for self-care: eat well and sleep well. It’s those pragmatic things we should encourage, and go with guys’ flow rather than trying to somehow re-wire the seemingly ‘faulty’ bloke brain.

And men do talk. Our society would not be functioning at all if men didn’t talk and didn’t experience and work with their emotions. But they ‘talk’ in their own way.

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On the phones as a volunteer at Lifeline, my experience was that men in crisis didn’t tell me ‘how they were feeling’, per se, or describe their internal stuff in detail. Rather, they told me how they got into the shit, what led them to call, and what was going on for them right now. It was situational -- not emotional -- and that’s OK. Subtle but important differences.

A psychologist mate does what he calls tattoo therapy. The blokes who come to him sometimes struggle to ‘talk about their feelings’ but are really good at telling him what each tatt represents, how the tatts relate to where they’re up to in their lives and what’s bugging them.

And men use connection with other men to get better and stay well. That’s shown by the amazing benefits of Men’s Sheds around the country, or just being together on a bike ride, in the surf, at the pub, or through a WhatsApp shit-stirring session (like the one I’m on with friends from the first grade back in my hometown of New York City).

(Image: Getty)

Really powerful is the near-movement of men’s groups forming around the country -- formally and informally -- where men of lived experience just get together, honour each other’s honesty, and listen respectfully to each other no matter how something’s said. It’s good for them; I believe it’s especially good for the partners and kids in their lives. They build on men’s strengths rather than trying to artificially fix their weaknesses.

READ MORE: The Men's Shed Chorale

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That’s the bottom line. If we want mentally healthier men, including less violence by men toward themselves or toward women and kids, let’s work with what we’ve got and not a fake take on what men can or should be.

On an individual level, it means respecting men enough to communicate and connect in their own way. On a societal level, it means respecting them enough to support initiatives that recognise and respond to their uniqueness.

If you need help in a crisis, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.