Trigger warning: This post contains information about suicide.
As we get to the end of the year, and say goodbye (hopefully) to the worst of the pandemic, it’s a good time to reflect on the state of men’s mental health and what we can all do to help our friends, family and workmates, as well as ourselves.
It’s always a bit of a wake-up call when you look at the stats of men’s mental health and understand the size of the issue. It affects everyone.
More than six men die every day in Australia by suicide. And men who are LGBTQIA+ are 14 times more likely to attempt suicide.
One of the reasons men make up the large majority of suicides is that they’re much less likely to see help for mental health issues and Movember is a good opportunity to raise awareness and start the conversation
COVID has had a huge impact on men’s health
As you can imagine, COVID has only made things worse. People’s perceived stress scores have increased compared with pre-COVID.
We know from our last blog that mental and physical health are strongly linked.
Unfortunately, physical health factors have declined during COVID.
Average weight has increased across the board, with the highest increases by those already at the highest risk.
Other health risk factors like blood pressure, smoking and diabetes have also significantly increased.[i]
Then there’s work. COVID has played havoc with people’s businesses and employment security and created a huge amount of uncertainty.
In their article, John Oliffe and Christina Han observed, “Work is central to men’s masculine identities, roles and relations, and many work-related factors including stress, unemployment, and job insecurity are intricately connected to men’s depression and suicide.”[ii]
So what do we do?
One of the most important things a person can do when struggling to cope or feeling suicidal is to reach out for help.
If a person is in crisis, they can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
But, for many reasons, men aren’t always great at reaching out.
The stigma of admitting a perceived weakness or inability to deal with what’s happening in their lives can present a hurdle.
Philip Paysden, General Manager of Acumen, says, “The work the Acumen team do today in supporting Australian Defence Force members, veterans and those workers with injuries at a vulnerable time in their lives – makes us acutely aware of the need for men to seek out mental support much more often.
“Time and time again, our team has to deal with the results of men who do not reach out, and we acknowledge that overcoming the stigma is a huge hurdle for many, and that is why we are standing beside Movember in supporting the upcoming campaign.”
As well as raising large amounts of money for men’s mental health and suicide prevention, and prostate and testicular cancer, Movember is about raising awareness, knowledge and understanding of these issues.
Movember Conversations has tools and information designed to help people reach out to a man who’s going through tough times.
ALEC is a guide you can use to start a conversation. It’s worth visiting this page to get the full guide, but the ALEC approach has four main areas.
ASK the person how they’re feeling and what’s been happening lately
Sharing your own feelings and struggles can help them open up.
And don’t be afraid to ask them if there’s anything you can do to support them better.
LISTEN and give them your full attention
Sometimes people just need to get things off their chest.
Be a sounding board and avoid assumptions, judgement and the temptation to provide answers.
ENCOURAGE ACTION for them to take to feel better
Encourage them to focus on simple things that can improve how they feel.
This could be taking care of their physical health as well as their mental health by eating well and staying active.
CHECK-IN regularly after your chat
It shows you care and that you’re there for them. Plan a follow-up to build trust and ensure the ongoing value of your conversations.
It’s not always easy, and it can take time to learn how to start and continue meaningful conversations like these.
Fortunately, Movember Conversations also has this covered. It has an online tool to help you practice having a chat with someone and help them open up while being supportive and helpful.
There’s no doubt that COVID has significantly impacted men’s mental health in Australia.
But it’s a shared experience that has increased our awareness and understanding that some people are struggling at times and may deal with a situation differently.
If one thing we learn from it is to have better conversations with each other about our mental health to make sure we are there for people that need it, then that’s a good thing.
To find out more about Movember, and access all their online information, tools and resources, click here. And maybe donate some money to their worthy causes if you feel like it.
Help is available
Speak with someone today at Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.
Available 24 hours. Learn more.
[i] SiSU Health, ‘Canary in the Mine: A unique analysis of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the physical and mental health of Australians’, October 2021
[ii] John L. Oliffe, and Christina S. E. Han, “Beyond Workers’ Compensation: Men’s Mental Health In and Out of Work”, American Journal of Men’s Health, 2014, Vol 8(1) 45–53