Mental health as a whole has been a big discussion point of late. We’ve seen the government invest millions in national causes, and it’s never been less taboo to talk about the state of your mind. But surprisingly to me personally, in a 2019 study called the State On Men In Australia, 75% of suicides in Australia are men, with a further 1/5 openly stating they experience anxiety.
And if you look to the media, we see conflicting news about men when it comes to how they behave. Toxic masculinity seems to be theme of the moment, so we chatted to the Co-Founder of The MENtour Australia, Mike Campbell to get some answers on men’s health in Australia.
Ps. Mike and his team are running a men’s health conference called Manifest this weekend in Sydney, check it out here.
Why do you think toxic masculinity is such a big thing at the moment?
Mike Campbell: “In part, because we keep talking about it. I understand why that happens; there are ill effects of some toxic behaviours. But talking about ‘toxic masculinity’ itself is leading to a lot of people thinking masculinity = toxic. This is a dangerous and erroneous narrative. What is an issue and does need attention is how men have been shaped into a narrow ideal of masculinity – one that sees us lose individual identity in the search to fit this ideal of the strong, stoic man.”
Why do you think suicide rates are so high in Australia at the moment for men?
MC: “As men, we learn a simple message that states explicitly that having problems and asking for help is weakness. From this grows a heavy fear of being judged as weak, as a man who doesn’t have answers, a man who can’t hold it together.
“This leads to a general way of being that sees men keep challenges and struggles to ourselves and ultimately, suffer in silence. When you don’t feel like you have permission to share, you hold everything in. The idea of asking for help or showing that you’re struggling becomes a question mark on your entire identity – being judged as a failure or less of a man become very real drivers that keep men keeping it in.
“You start to believe you’re the only one experiencing that. It builds and builds to the point that for many men an extreme option is the only way out of the internal pressure.”
What do you think are the biggest challenges for men’s mental health at the moment?
MC: “I think we’ve become confused between mental health and mental illness. Not to shame mental illness here, but I think many guys think even discussing mental health means there is something wrong with them. This definition or belief holds us back from simply addressing it as something that lives on a spectrum that we can and have to work on. That and the fact we still keep playing out the story that we have to hold everything in and sort all of our challenges out – even the ones we don’t know how to move past – ourselves.”
How can men be better role models in every facet of life?
MC: “Being a role model for others starts with being a role model to and for ourselves. I encourage my clients to first focus inwards on who they are and who they want to be. Focusing on how you want to show up in your life for yourself and your different roles and responsibilities so that you can be proud of yourself will start to take care of how you role model for others. We teach the world how to treat us and interact with us, so when we turn inwards first the rest becomes a by-product.”
What are some simple things men can do everyday to be better?
MC: “I think the key here is to keep it simple and not try to do everything at once. Everest isn’t scaled in a day, but one step after the next. For a lot of men the major aim is to feel more at peace with and within themselves. The first requirement for this is actually getting to know themselves a bit better. So a simple journal practise where they braindump down all of their thoughts and feelings down each day, just ten minutes, can be a powerful practise to both get some of what they’re experiencing out, and to understand themselves better. Like speaking a new language – start a daily practise and build over time. This and actually talk to people about things you’re challenged by.”
Any advice on how men can express themselves more freely and openly?
MC: “The central thing for men is to feel safe – if we know we aren’t at risk of being judged, if we know people will listen with empathy and compassion, it becomes infinitely easier to open up and allow ourselves to be seen. Setting up this safety is easily something we can take responsibility for ourselves, for example, say you could do with having a chat with a mate about something that you’re struggling with, ask him: “Mate, I’m struggling with something and I could do with getting it off my chest and sharing. I don’t feel that confident doing so, though. Could you support me and make it safe for me to share?”
“Most guys will say “Yeah of course mate” and if they don’t, then don’t share with them. Try someone else. but we have to start – that takes courage, which we all have, we just have to give ourselves permission to access it.”
If you ever feel down, unsure or worried about something, give Lifeline Australia a call on 13 11 14 or visit their website for more info.