Have You Got Your Mate’s Back?

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Updated: September 15, 2020

Australian mateship is legendary. We all know that when someone needs a helping-hand we get in and just do it. Even if we don’t really know the person, in times of crisis we do our part to help our fellow Aussies.

This is all fine when it means we help our mate pave the back garden or move house. But what does it mean when our mate seems to be depressed, withdrawn or anxious? Just as mateship is a common stereotype, many men have another stereotype that goes hand-in-hand with mateship. The traditional view of masculinity in Australia is of tough men, men who are strong, speak little and feel even less. Generations of Australian men, grandfathers, fathers, and sons, have developed a culture where silence is the norm. Problems are not discussed and men often worry they will be seen as whinging. Where does this leave today’s men when they need help with difficult situations and emotions?

Women are frequently good at calling on their family and friendship networks when times get tough. They have close community ties they know they can call on for both practical and emotional help. Discussing emotional issues is the expected, and is practised often so it is usually easier for women to open up and seek advice. Men on the other hand, often find this proposition intimidating. They struggle to know where to begin and worry about looking weak or unmanly to their friends and families.

Never has it been more important for us to embrace the mateship code and help our friends or work mates. Late 2019 and 2020 have been challenging for most people in Australia in a way perhaps never before seen in this country. The record-breaking bushfire crisis hit many families and individuals financially and emotionally, placing strain on households and relationships, as well as the economy. The following Coronavirus pandemic and the resultant recession have further stretched an already stretched nation and created an international phenomenon of global uncertainty.

Men often feel they are the breadwinners and the backbones of their families. The bushfire crisis and the Coronavirus pandemic have caused many men and women to lose income or even their jobs. The collapse of the breadwinner role for many men can cause a range of negative emotions that may be extremely hard to manage. Helplessness, anxiety, anger, fear, guilt, loss, depression and isolation are all likely and reasonable reactions to pressures placed on individuals and families trying to keep their heads above water in these unprecedented, turbulent times.

What To Look Out For

So, what are the signs that your mate might be struggling with their mental health? Some men withdraw from their friends and families, often spending more time away from home. Sometimes working longer hours or consuming greater amounts of alcohol can be signs too. Likewise, reckless and/or violent behaviour can also be signs of mental health struggles.

Tradies often spend eight or more hours a day with each other so it can sometimes be clearest to other tradies when emotional problems are affecting their mates. Trust your instinct if you feel there might be a problem.

How Can You Help?

Knowing that men are sometimes not so comfortable with asking for emotional help, what can their mates do when they suspect their friend is having a difficult time? Don’t just hope it will sort itself out. Ignoring signs of mental health stress can lead to catastrophic problems such as drug, alcohol or gambling addictions, domestic violence, relationship breakdowns, poor financial decisions and physical health related side-effects, such as insomnia and migraines. Mental health is a health issue. If you or a friend caught a serious illness or broke a leg, you would seek medical attention. Whilst mental health problems manifest differently, they are still a medical issue that needs attention.

Even more horrific than the potential outcomes of ignoring mental and emotional stress is the very real risk of suicide. Statistics show that tradies are a massive 70 per cent more likely to commit suicide than men engaged in desk jobs. Don’t let this happen to you or your mates.

It is not always easy to open up a conversation with your mates about mental health. You may feel that you won’t be equipped to solve the problem or that you will be looked on as ‘soft’ for discussing emotional topics. But it might be as simple as giving your friend an opportunity to get the issues off their chest. Being a good listener, showing a little empathy and encouraging your mate to seek outside help if they need it, may be all that you need to do for them to head in the right direction.

Research has shown that men often find it easier to discuss difficult issues and emotions whilst engaged in other activities. Sometimes the lack of eye contact can make the conversation seem more natural and casual. A round of golf, a basketball game or turning some sausages on the barbecue could be just the opening you need to start a conversation. Wait until your friend is comfortable and give them time. Open gently to be sure that your mate is ready share their private thoughts with you as it may be a bit confronting for them. Sometimes a couple of relaxed attempts may be necessary and don’t expect them to open up in front of a group.

The Role Of Employers

Trades are still largely male-dominated fields. So how can employers help to care for the mental health of their employees? Financial and work-related issues are large triggers that contribute to many male suicides so employers should seek every opportunity they can to reduce the stresses placed on employees. Make sure your employees know your door is always open, provide resources and guidelines for where employees can seek outside help for mental health, and make it clear that you value work-life balance and mental health as a priority. Also, providing good support for workers returning to work after mental health issues is a must. This can be a particularly challenging time for employees and your support is crucial to successful reintegration.

Thursday 10 September is R U OK? Day 2020. R U OK? Day is a dedicated national day devoted to reminding people to ask their mates, family and work colleagues if they are struggling with life’s ups and downs. If you haven’t already ensured a focus on mental health as an employer, or if you are looking for a chance to open a conversation with a friend, R U OK? Day could be the perfect opportunity to get the ball rolling. Employers might like to consider a morning tea or other bonding activity to demonstrate and discuss the crucial issues of mental health.

Let’s keep mateship and our mates alive by addressing mental health and tackling suicide head on.

Where Can You Turn For Outside Services?

There are many places you can go to seek free counselling, online chat or further literature. There are also many great tips for encouraging mental wellbeing. You could try:

MensLine Australia, www.mensline.org.au, Ph: 1300 78 99 78

Beyond Blue, www.beyondblue.org.au, Ph: 1300 22 4636

Sane Australia, www.sane.org Ph: 1800 18 7263

Mates in Construction,www.mates.org.au Ph: 1300 642 111