You’ve most likely seen it trend on your Facebook recently. Men around the world are taking photos of themselves doing the universal ‘Okay’ symbol, whilst nominating five of their mates to do the same thing. The #ItsOkayToTalk Campaign began with a UK rugby player, Luke Ambler, who was compelled to take matters into his own hands after his brother-in- law Andy Roberts took his own life.
In Australia, the leading cause of death in Australian men between the ages of 15 to 44 is suicide. In 2014, 2,864 Australians took their own lives. This is almost eight people per day – one every three hours. Of this statistic, males will account for about three in four suicides.What saddens me further is that 41% of men who have contemplated suicide felt they could not talk about their feelings.
Just earlier this year, I found myself visiting a friend who was staying in a mental care facility. He had recently threatened to self-harm and in this instance, was committed to hospital to prevent him from hurting himself. It was heart-breaking to see and even more heart-breaking to hear that he believed that he was alone, isolated and unheard. Even more recently, one of my closest friends has been struggling with depression. To me, he has always been the most expressive, articulate and open person that I know. He was my sounding board and more often than not, was better able to articulate my own feelings than even I was able to. Yet at this difficult point in his own life he struggled to be able to talk about his own vulnerabilities. Why? Is it because we have perpetuated a silo mentality around mental illness? Is it because, too often, men feel as if they are judged for expression?
I am fortunate that I have always grown up exceedingly comfortable with expressing my feelings (sometimes a bit too comfortable – cue me tearing up at the drop of a hat). If I was happy, angry or sad, the world would know. As such, it confounded me that half of my fellow playmates were being told that crying or talking about how they felt was solely for girls. Although attitudes towards traditional masculinity and male roles have shifted over time, it is not an uncommon refrain that men should be strong, self sufficient and that asking for help is a sign of weakness. As a society, it is sad that we have not yet progressed enough that free and open dialogue about our personal experiences are everyday discourse for men and women alike. There is a strange requirement that men are suppose to be stoic about their experiences of both the good and bad. Whilst talking about difficult passages in our lives is not easy for anyone, it is an extra burden on men. “Don’t cry. Toughen up. Don’t act like a girl. Don’t talk about your feelings.”
As a woman, I have experienced seeing my partner struggle but continue to shut me out. In retrospect, I have been told by him that it was always easier to bottle it up and deal with it solo than burden me with his struggles. Yet, it is this common dynamic, among friends, family and loved ones that, in many cases, leave things until it’s too late.
It is naïve to think that a conversation will save every life – tackling mental illness and suicide is a complicated and sensitive area. However, with any issue, dialogue and education is a starting point in creating an environment that will break the silence. Life is wonderfully challenging and multifaceted. As a culture, we are great at talking. We talk holidays, work, gadgets, film and about a million other routine parts of our lives – let’s get better with talking about the significant things. From the breakdown of a relationship, to a setback at work or dealing with an ill loved one – please reach out, there are people around you who listen and no one will think any less of you.
If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 12 11 14. For further information about depression, please contact beyondblue on 1300 224 636 or talk to your local health professional or someone you trust.