If you’re experiencing depression, loneliness, isolation or any mental health issues, don’t hide it. Talk to someone. And if you see a mate who’s not coping, talk to him.

Every 3-3.5 hours in this country someone takes their own life. For every person who takes their own life, research suggests that another 20 people attempt to do so. Almost 75 percent of all suicides in this country are men. Think about that: 75 percent. Why? I wish I had the answers and I wish I had the solution, I don’t, but I can theorise what might be playing a part – the toxic ‘man up’ culture that still does exist in some places, including parts of Australia.

A culture where keeping tight lipped about your emotions, avoiding talking about your vulnerabilities is somehow perceived to be advantageous. Sure, keeping tight lipped in an office environment and not telling your boss he’s acting like a dickhead in front of 30 of his employees might be good practice, but keeping tight lipped about feeling lonely, feeling flat, feeling angry, feeling like you can’t cope anymore, isn’t.

Having suffered my own mental health issues, often triggered by the loss of friends and family in the past, the number of times I have opened up to a friend, male or female, and felt a weight lift off my shoulders, a positive release is plentiful. The number of times a mate has opened up to me and told me how much better they feel by simply talking, is proof that it helps.

Men are not one-dimensional beings – not all men love eating meat, sinking beers, betting (not that there is anything wrong with this in moderation) – men can be diverse, complex and sensitive. Men and women struggle with life! Life is bloody hard sometimes – we should all allow each other to speak openly about this. What I truly believe is that knowledge and understanding heals and defeats ignorance and stigma, almost every time. We all have physical health and we all have mental health. Your physical and mental health should be top priority. Your kids’ physical health and mental health should be top priority – not their grades, not their sporting achievements. If we can change the way society understands and perceives mental health, we will start to see a generational shift. Young people will no longer mask their pain at the expense of their perceived self-worth and threat to their ego, and people will be more inclined to reach out and ask for help before it is too late. If we can create a culture that accepts the hard-hitting conversations from the top down, we will start to see a society that thrives, embraces and supports mental health on any spectrum and in any context.

Livin, the charity and organisation I have co-founded with Casey Lyons, whose mission is to break the stigma surrounding mental illness, was created in honour of our good friend Dwayne, who took his own life five years ago. After being one of the last people who spoke with Dwayne that night, this hits extremely close to home for me. I look back at that night with Dwayne and think that maybe, just maybe if I was more educated in the area of mental health I could have said something different, helped more and possibly changed the course of events that night. Maybe that could have saved his life. The loss of my good mate really rocked me (and so many others) and it is now the driving force behind everything that I do. The devastation, hurt and heartbreak of Dwayne’s passing was seemingly insurmountable for so many of us, but none more than his family.

It is time for all people, regardless of gender, to start prioritising mental health education, delivered by or at least well-informed by mental health professionals. While this won’t SOLVE the alarming statistics detailed at the outset of this article, it will certainly go some way to addressing a truly upsetting current state of affairs. I certainly recommend LIVIN’s LIVINWell mental health awareness program, as well as the mental health training organisation, ChekMate, for delivery of more in-depth mental health skills training. ChekMate uses relatable qualified mental health professionals for all of their training, and the training is efficient, fresh and engaging.  Hiding your pain isn’t strength, dealing with the pain takes courage and leadership, and that is the catalyst for change.

What to do if you notice a change in a mate?

First things first, while mood changes, a loss of interest, irritability, fatigue etc. are all symptoms of anxiety and depression, it is so important to understand that these conditions reveal themselves in different ways from person to person. Some people have a tremendous ability to hide their pain. I call this ‘smiling depression’. Working out if someone has depression can be difficult to identify even if you are a mental health professional. That’s why it is important to have a simple understanding of  when someone  might be struggling so you can offer support.

Here are some things to note:

  • Often people who are struggling with mental illness want to open up, talk or have someone show that they care. In fact, showing you care may make all the difference. Due to the stigma surrounding mental illness, many don’t know how to approach the subject with others, and this is why it is good to be aware of the people around you and cognisant of changes in their behaviour
  • If you notice a change in someone’s behaviour, ask them if they are okay and if you can help.
  • Often people will fear opening up to others because they are worried about what you might say and the judgement you might pass. Remember, you have two ears and one mouth -listen twice as much as you speak. Just let them talk and stand respectfully next to them during their struggle.
  • Never tell them to ‘man up’ or ‘get over it’, that is not helpful
  • If you are struggling, open up to someone, you are not a burden and people do care. The person you open up to might struggle one day too and remember your conversation. You never know the things that may help another person down the track. 

About Sam Webb

Sam Webb  is the co-founder of the mental health organisation and charity Livin who has received notable recognition for his mission of breaking the stigma around mental health through fashion, events and the delivery of education programs into schools across Australia with the mantra #It Ain’t Weak to Speak.Sam travels around the world to speak about the importance of understanding wellness and vulnerability, offering practical and effective skills to living a positive life. Sam is also an actor, starring in Neighbours, and was also featured in Season 1 of Australian Survivor, finishing sixth in 2016.

Emergency Support: If you or someone you know are in an emergency, or at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please contact emergency services on 000.  

Suicide and Crisis Support: To talk to someone RIGHT NOW contact:

  • Lifeline 13 11 14
  • Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
  • Kids Help Line 1800 55 1800