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Asking for Help is Not a Sign of Weakness

The challenge of mental health has never been greater. Whether life is more challenging or people are just more vulnerable, is not fully understood. Regardless of the reason, the reality is that many people have needs to be addressed. The solution I suspect lies importantly with us as individuals and our ‘support crew’ who journey with us.

The notion of a support crew is well understood in many endurance events and all of us would have an image of a ‘support crew’ carefully travelling beside competitors in bicycling tours or English Channel swims. The thought of a ‘support crew’ journeying through life may not be as readily recognised. Just as a support crew can spring into action when a punctured tyre is encountered, the idea of a personal support crew can similarly spring into action when we encounter a speed bump in our lives.

Unfortunately, the Australian male is not noted for speaking openly about how he feels. Sadly it is a fact that men statistically are less likely to seek help when they are struggling with life, feeling overwhelmed or suffering from mental health issues, than women. It’s also true that some men try to manage feelings of sadness, stress and emptiness by withdrawing socially or avoiding situations and past times that once gave them pleasure. In an ideal world, men who are struggling or in crisis would feel confident and empowered enough to ask for help. But statistics reveal that two thirds of men don’t. A lot of men want greater openness with their mates but don’t always have the skills to start the conversation or know how to respond when a friend opens up.

Several researchers have specifically described masculinity as being inherently paradoxical and contradictory. Associate Professor Lina Ricciardelli FAPS, Professor David Mellor MAPS and Professor Marita McCabe FAPS, from the Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing Research at Deakin University, have suggested that “many of the risk-taking behaviours engaged in by males are done to display their power and strength, but in the longer term these lead to powerlessness and poor health outcomes. The same paradox is also evident in men’s help-seeking behaviour. Men are often reluctant to seek medical advice in order to maintain a position of power or not be labelled as weak. It has been frequently shown that men do not seek help as much as women because of their greater independence and self-reliance. Similarly, rather than seeking help, men have been shown to respond to mental health and physical symptoms through a number of strategies: denial; a ‘toughen up’ attitude that assumes they just need to ‘shake it off’; and by convincing themselves that they can manage their symptoms alone. However, this becomes a ‘double jeopardy’ as a rigid identification with many traditional masculine gender norms associated with both an increased likelihood of depressive symptoms and more negative attitudes towards seeking psychological help, and in the longer term this further increases their vulnerability to poorer health.”

This week on Thursday September 13 we have a reminder of the need for support crews in our lives in the national R U OK? Day. R U OK? Day is a national day of action dedicated to reminding everyone that any day is the day to ask, “Are you OK?” and support those struggling with life. Taking part can be as simple as learning R U OK’s four steps so you can have a conversation that could change a life. The day is about inspiring people to start these conversations every day of the year.

Suspicion is often as important as an actual event. When we are speaking about people, and further still a friend, the idea of looking out for each other is really important. We all have times when we have a niggling feeling that someone we know or care about it isn’t behaving as they normally would? Perhaps they seem out of sorts? More agitated or withdrawn? Or they’re just not themselves. It is really important we trust that gut instinct and act on it.

This can be as simple as starting a conversation and commenting on the changes you’ve noticed. This small step is all that is often needed to help that family member, friend or workmate open up. If they say they are not ok, you can follow our conversation steps to show them they’re supported and help them find strategies to better manage the load. If they are ok, that person will know you’re someone who cares enough to ask. Either way it is important to simply ask the question R U OK.

The R U OK official strategy involves 4 steps:

Remember as a friend stay in touch and be there for them. Genuine care and concern can make a real difference.
For most of us, our eyes, ears and mouths are all the resources we need to support those around us. The challenge we experience, is that we need to overcome our initial reluctance to get involved in others’ lives and for Australian males, to look at dealing with that often taboo area of feelings. Typically people may find excuses such as ‘I don’t know what to say’, ‘I wouldn’t want to make it worse’, ‘I’m worried they might get angry’, ‘I’m not an expert’ or ‘It’s none of my business’ to avoid the conversation.

One in five young Australians are dealing with a serious mental illness but more than 60 per cent feel uncomfortable seeking professional support, a new report from Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute has found. The research shows young people who are experiencing the greatest distress are also the least willing to seek information or support from counselling services. The number of services available to Australians and in particular men suffering from mental illness, is continually growing. There are hundreds of psychotherapists and counsellors helping Australians every day in their private practices and clinics, but there are also many mental health organisations publicly encouraging people to speak out and become more accepting of sufferers.

These organisations do incredible work in reducing the stigma that surrounds mental health, and help spread accurate and helpful information about mental health issues and mental wellness. Among these are:
Beyondblue: of the most well-known mental health organisations in Australia, Beyondblue provides comprehensive resources related to mental health issues and disorders. It gives help to those who need it, no matter their circumstances, and works tirelessly to increase mental health awareness.

Black Dog Institute: Founded in 2002, the Black Dog Institute was crafted to be at the forefront in diagnosis, treatment and prevention of depression and other mental health related disorders. Considered to be one of the leaders in prevention, it relies on up-to-date research and personnel expertise for its work.

Lifeline: Lifeline is an Australian charity that aims to save lives and offer support during crisis. It provides a 24/7 information and support service that’s available to any person needing to chat to someone about what they’re feeling.

Mental Health Australia: An organisation dedicated to educating the public about mental illness. It works to change the public’s perception about people who are mentally ill and reduce the occurrence of negative stereotyping.

Headspace: Headspace is a National Youth Mental Health Foundation that provides a timely intervention strategy for kids growing into adulthood experiencing mental illness. Headspace also provides support for individuals who suffer from alcohol and drug addiction.

Parents and Friends

At ATC, we see our role as working with parents to help form their sons into fine young men. We value this partnership that we have with parents. The P & F Annual General Meeting was held last Tuesday evening. I appreciate the demands on families in current times and I appreciate the input so many parents are able to provide to help make ATC a better place for parents and the boys. Our model of having class reps, smaller committees and leaders for a multitude of events, provides widespread opportunity for parents to have significant input without being too taxing timewise.

Through the leadership of the Executive, there have been a number of ‘friend raising’ events this year, highlighted by the Welcome Night and the Trivia Night. In addition to this there have been Year level functions, Care and Concern for a number of our families, working bees and many morning teas and welcome occasions. At the AGM a new The P&F Executive for 2019 was elected:

President Brett Solomon
Vice President Timothy Kendrick
Treasurer Helen Davidson
Secretary Helen Dunn

I would like to thank Brett, Timothy Helen and Helen for their willingness to take on or continue in their roles within the P&F Executive.

With best wishes,

Michael Senior