Boys and Men

FROM CO-CHAIR OF SIG ZAC SEIDLER

What 2020 has brought to the surface is the fragility of our mental health. And no one is immune. We’re seeing a decommissioning of the age-old stigma around mental health that perpetuates an ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ mentality, and instead witnessing how experiencing stress and anxiety is more the norm, a reflection of our common humanity, than an exception. It’s the great equaliser.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics announced recently that the already staggering suicide rate was higher in 2019 than it’s been in over a decade, and this was pre-COVID. As we’ve seen year after year, three quarters of those lives lost were once again men. We are now losing a frightening seven guys every day to suicide in Australia, up from six in years prior. The world over, this contributes to a man a minute dying by suicide.

When it comes to getting men to change their behaviour, we traditionally haven’t been too successful. For generations, many have strived to find a way to bring men together away from the arena of the sporting pitch or battlefield but guys have struggled to get behind men’s causes because it meant facing up to their own mortality and fragility, something we’re taught to avoid at all costs.

But this year has changed the outlook of many, and the excuse of many men of ‘that’s not for me’ is wearing thin. Public sentiment has shifted. You can’t turn on the TV or open the newspaper without hearing of a football player opening up about his struggles with depression. Men are ready. What we need to do, is offer something that speaks to them, that’s designed for them, that appeals to and excites them.

For too long we missed the mark. We’ve been flinging out lifebuoys to men for years, just hoping they’d grab hold. We nagged men and spoke down to them, underestimating their capacity for change. It makes sense that many guys want to hold on to a sense of independence, stoicism and control. Many don’t enjoy being told by those in an ivory tower how to behave, what to change and how they can do better.

This contextualises the place and importance of our work as a newly formed special interest group focusing on preventing suicide in boys and men. In joining our group, we hope that alongside us, you will aim to progress meaningful conversations and research and build collaborations in the field to seek out men’s voice and experiences and help create interventions and services that men want and need.

When we approach men in the right way – when our interventions and messages are targeted – we know they can work. And for anyone who wants to support men in striving towards long lasting mental wellbeing – from partners, family and friends through to researchers and healthcare professionals – it’s time we start asking and stop assuming what men need.