SIFT through the statistics and it quickly becomes apparent why this year’s Men’s Health Week theme – Building Healthy Environments for Men and Boys – is so important.
Sadly, suicide is the leading cause of death for Australian males aged 15 to 44. And it is the second-highest cause of death in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males across all age groups.
Plus, suicide rates are climbing in Australia – rising from 16.2 deaths per 100,000 males in 2011, to 18.6 deaths per 100,000 in 2020.
So what do we do about it? Obviously something needs to change in our society if our husbands, partners, fathers, sons, friends, uncles, workmates and nephews are feeling so overwhelmed that suicide is their chosen solution to their problems.
While it’s a big issue, it can be addressed by all of us at our different levels of influence, including us as individuals – in our homes, workplaces and social environments – to help build healthy environments for the men and boys in our lives.
What is a healthy environment for men and boys?
It’s become increasingly apparent over the years that many men find it difficult to open up about their feelings, usually because they risk being ridiculed or labelled soft.
But as a lot of women seem to instinctively understand, talking to trusted friends and family is a healthy way to process the challenges we encounter in our day-to-day lives.
Repressed feelings can lead to accumulated stress, which in turn can cause physical and mental consequences (e.g., cancer or depression). So if we provide men the safe environments at home, work and play that make them feel comfortable and relaxed – without risk of attack – chances are they will open up and start talking. It will also set an example to our boys about what healthy masculinity and relationships look like.
It goes without saying that it’s important to teach our boys from an early age that owning their emotions by talking about them is not weak, but something that well-adjusted men do to stay happy, healthy and well. This starts in the home.
How can we start the big discussions?
Healthy environments that foster open communication will require a relaxed setting and a relationship built on trust and respect. This may not necessarily be at home or the office, and may be in a neutral, non-threatening setting such as on a hike in nature, over a video game, or at the gym.
If you suspect that a male that you care about has been struggling and want to start a conversation, believe you’ve found the right space for it, you should be prepared to discover it may not be the right time for them, or indeed you may not be the personal they feel comfortable sharing with. Don’t take it personally.
If you’re prepared to make peace with that, here’s a few tips on how to start a conversation about mental health:
- Make sure you are prepared for the job. Do you have the time, compassion, mutual respect and understanding to give your loved one the space and energy needed, while also following up when and where required?
- Be prepared to be brushed off with an “I’m fine”, but if your intuition is telling you otherwise, it’s ok to gently ask a third or fourth time if you need to. Just don’t be pushy or aggressive about it.
- Ask about it in different ways. Rather than asking how they “feel”, ask what a situation means to them. For example, what does it mean to you to lose this job, or custody of your children?
- Share your own experiences that are relatable to whatever you are discussing. It’s about reducing the stigma, building connection, and understanding to allow the conversation to start flowing.
- Let them talk. The fact is, men will usually talk freely to those who are prepared to listen. Let them vent without immediately wanting to make things better, with counter-productive assurances such as “you’re not a failure”.
- Accept that you won’t have all the answers. Sometimes, one of the best things you can do for someone is encourage them to seek peer support, such as that provided in South Coastal Babbingur Mia’s Men’s Yarning Group. However, in the instance of someone struggling with suicidal thoughts, professional guidance will need to be sought after you give them the space and time to talk about what they’ve been thinking. Please don’t panic or judge as your loved one discusses their suicidal thoughts, but do follow up later with your GP, mental health professional or Lifeline.
Support our cause today!
South Coastal Health and Community Services – along with its Aboriginal health arm South Coastal Babbingur Mia – is a not-for-profit organisation determined to build Strong Women, Strong Families and Stronger Communities through its unique programs and services.
We absolutely welcome your donations, which directly work toward building healthier environments for the families of Rockingham and Kwinana.
Please help us make a difference today: https://www.southcoastal.org.au/getinvolved/donations/