By Andrew Howard on 4 August 2017
Men’s Mental Health has become a hot topic. One of many emerging, high profile health and wellness issues attracting the attention of governments at all levels and society more broadly. There are numerous websites, organisations, social programs, government programs, media exposés and marketing campaigns designed to reduce stigma, increase discussion, get men talking and get men treated for emerging or established mental health issues. It is clear that men generally are struggling to adapt to their rapidly changing role, societal expectations and professional and personal stressors while also being hampered by a seemingly genetic disposition to respond by ignoring the issue/issues that are so heavily impacting on them and their loved ones.
In my professional role as a Health Services Manager, I am well and truly aware of the range of “formal” responses to Men’s Mental Health. As a middle aged man I’m also aware that while the various formal government, social and organisational responses are valid and valuable we must not underestimate the ways in which men, particularly groups of men, find ways to socially look after themselves without ever connecting with what would be considered an organised or formal men’s mental health program, service or activity. This is men (mates) looking after themselves while not having to admit they’re looking after themselves.
I’m talking about the natural social default mechanism for men. I’ll just call it the “Bunch of Mates”. It might be the pub on Friday night, it might be with a group of golfing mates on a Saturday morning, a group of Dads at junior sport, or, in my case, a group of mates with the common sporting interest of cycling…you get the picture.
Of course, men have always “gathered” and in doing so, engaged in casual conversation. But things are changing. It has been the case that even within these comfortable, supportive environments of the “Bunch of Mates” men have tended to maintain a wall that separated social banter from the real and difficult issues they were (and are) dealing with on a daily basis. It was as though in some ways the strength of the group has maintained the strength of the individual. In the past men have been able to maintain a sense of ‘everything is ok’ simply by being part of a social group where all members maintained a false sense of ‘everything being ok’.
What has changed, in my own narrow experience, is the amount of public and open information and discussion of Men’s Health issues, and Men’s Mental Health in particular, has allowed us to adjust our radar and lower our guard.
It is now a more common experience for us to discuss and reveal our faults and frailties within the “Bunch of Mates” environment. Usually it is just a hint, a comment or response that opens the smallest crack of the window to the soul, enough for the “Bunch of Mates” to understand that there may be a deeper and more complex issue behind the hint. While it would be rare, and not required, for such revelations to turn into a full-on counselling session within the group it is increasingly highly likely that one or two or the individual members of the group will make contact with the story teller after the event, and in private; to reach out with that most valuable question “Are you ok?” and “if you’re not I’m here to listen…”
Further, in my experience it is exactly the time when an individual member of the “Bunch of Mates” has been having a tough time that the group responds with a subtle message of support, a message confirming the individual is valued and acknowledged, that he won’t be left alone or behind. It is though the group as a whole has an innate ability to understand and respond in a way that respects the line between support and exposing.
So, thanks to all of those formal programs aimed at reducing the stigma of Men’s Mental Health and encouraging the discussion. I think men are slowly working it out in a way that works for them and that’s got to be a good thing hey?