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April 18, 2024

Speaking up about men’s mental health

With data showing that suicide is the number one cause of death among males aged 15 to 44, CityMag explores how men are tackling mental health issues head on.

  • Words: Charlie Gilchrist
  • Photo: supplied

Callum MacPherson (pictured above), the creator of the Young Blood – Men’s Mental Health podcast, tells CityMag that there is a stigma that men are not capable of talking about their feelings.


Warning: this story discusses suicide and addiction

Young Blood – Men’s Mental Health

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“Men communicate differently with other men than perhaps they do when women are involved,” he says.

“I’ve heard of anecdotal experiences of mums and girlfriends and wives and sisters being frustrated because the men in their lives won’t open up to them.

“That can be because of the fear and shame attached to that, where you know, ‘You’re a man so you shouldn’t be going and opening up emotionally in front of women’.

“When you give men the opportunity and the permission to tell these stories in order to help someone else, they’re actually really keen to do that and jump at the chance.”

It’s part of a common story, and part of the reason why Callum created Young Blood, a podcast that he describes as “a lived experience library”, where young men can share their experiences of struggling with mental health.

The podcast was created after a tragedy – the death of one of Callum’s closest mates, James.

“When that happened, it totally rocked my world and took off the rose-tinted glasses of life,” he says.

“It really shook up my perspective and I saw just how devastating the impact of suicide is not only to immediate family but to the wider circle of around 150 people on average per person.”

Callum says Young Blood provides a platform where young men can openly share their stories about mental health, suicide prevention and addiction.

He has had a diverse range of guests ranging from veterans to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, gay men, refugees and people with physical and intellectual disability.

They have spoken on a whole gamut of issues that affect young men, such as alcohol abuse, gambling, and sex and porn addictions.

“There’s been just a huge spectrum of different experiences, which I think is really important because we want it to be for everyone and for all young men, not just for straight white males,” says Callum.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that 43 per cent of Australian men have experienced mental health issues in their lifetime and that they are also less likely than women to seek out professional help.

Men are also less likely to be diagnosed with major depression but are more likely than women to be diagnosed with substance abuse disorders and to die by suicide.

In 2022, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that 8.6 Australians die by suicide every single day, making it more than double the total road toll death rate. And 75.6 per cent of those who die by suicide are men, making it the number one cause of death among males aged 15-44.

CityMag spoke with psychology professor Dr Deborah Turnbull to ask why mental health is such an issue for men and how it can be tackled head-on.

Dr Turnbull is Chair of Psychology at the University of Adelaide and a researcher at the Freemasons Centre for Male Health and Wellbeing.

Her research looks at health services, with a focus on mental health and women’s health. She is also interested in the relationship between gender and health.

Dr Turnbull confirms that having a gendered approach is useful because of how mental health problems present themselves differently in men.

“With men, distress is more likely to present itself in externalising ways,” she says.

“When we look at the  figures for alcohol and drug misuse, as well as suicide, the figures tend to be higher for men, and it’s partly because their experience of mental health and the way they express distress can be different.”

She says that contrary to the common belief that men are less likely to do so, they often seek out professional help for depression and suicidal thoughts.

“I think that men are reaching out. The issue more is that when they reach out to the health service, oftentimes, the health service has difficulties actually identifying the problem and managing the problem,” she says.

Dr Turnbull says changes can be made in the healthcare system and at a community level to improve men’s mental health.

One solution would be to give healthcare services a “more masculine look and feel to them”.

This would include everything from the design of waiting rooms to having opening hours that fit around men’s work lives.

It would also mean teaching practitioners to recognise symptoms of poor mental health in men and also how physical conditions such as urinary tract infections can contribute to poor mental health.

Dr Turnbull says that changes can also be made at a community level to address this issue, including how we design outdoor spaces and our built environment. This would also address the issue of social isolation, which she says “is arguably the strongest and the most reliable predictor of suicidal ideation attempts and suicidal behaviour”.

“There’s more than a century of research that suggests that social connection may in fact protect us against suicide as a cause of death, but for men especially,” she says.

“We need to go forward in a way where those things are designed in a way that people, including men, get to routinely connect with each other.

“We are now starting to come to terms with the fact that we can really improve, or go towards improving the mental health of our population at a broad systems level.

“I think as a society, we need to work to change our norms and change our values and our public policies…And it might be the way we build our environment, the way we build our civic buildings.”

Some examples of community-level responses to men’s mental health include joining a sporting club, raising money and awareness for men’s mental health by growing a moustache for Movember, or visiting a Men’s Shed, which offers activities ranging from furniture making to restoring old bicycles, fixing old lawnmowers, creating cubby houses, and crafting traditional weapons.

Callum says it’s all about “trying to make people understand they’re going to be more effective as men and they’re going to have better lives, and so will the people they love if they’re able to be honest with themselves and open up about things”.

“There’s a lot of strength to be found in honesty and openness and vulnerability, and that we should look at that as something to aspire to and emulate in ourselves rather than be ashamed of.”

If this story has raised issues for you, LifeLine is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Dial 13 11 14. Beyond Blue and headspace are other national organisations offering comprehensive mental health support.

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