Male suicide and mental health

More than half of mental health clinical interventions lack evidence of efficacy despite being widely used. A new Suicide Prevention Fellowship will identify better strategies to stop thousands of men dying each year.

Breakthrough team - Jeremy Edwards (left), Marc Ryan (centre back), John Mannion (right), Zane Kirkwood (centre front)

Breakthrough team - Jeremy Edwards (left), Marc Ryan (centre back), John Mannion (right), Zane Kirkwood (centre front)

Breakthrough Mental Health Research Foundation CEO John Mannion said giving men the confidence to reach out for help during times of poor mental health is vital in reducing our alarming suicide rate.

Each day, seven Australian men die by suicide.

And while two in five Australian men have experienced a mental health issue at some point in their lifetime, only a quarter of men experiencing recent symptoms have accessed services for their problems.

Breakthrough is Australia’s only dedicated mental health research foundation, investing in research to understand the causes mental of illness, how to reduce its impact and, ultimately, prevent it from occurring.

“What we do know is about 60 per cent of all interventions put into place in clinical practice don’t actually have the evidence to prove they work,” Mannion said.

Breakthrough is holding a fundraising dinner at Adelaide Oval later this month, based on its community program Men’s Meals and Mental Health.

The funds will help establish a Suicide Prevention Fellowship in Men’s Mental Health in partnership with Flinders University.

The fellowship will address the complexity associated with suicide risk for men and develop new evidence-based interventions and groundbreaking strategies that can be quickly translated into clinical practice.

“We’re losing seven men every day to suicide in Australia – we can’t carry on doing the same things and expect a different outcome,” Mannion said.

The Men’s Meals and Mental Health program has been running for three years, going into community settings to encourage and normalise the mental health conversation for men and breakdown the stigma and discrimination they often face when they tell others they are struggling.

So far, Breakthrough has run 20 community sessions, each seeing between 30 and 80 men open up about their mental health.

“We base it around having a meal together, such as a barbecue or a schnitty, then we set up a conversation with presenters sharing their own story,” Mannion said.

Among those presenters is ex-AFL player Dan Menzel, whose physical injuries through football impacted his mental health and wellbeing.

“A lot of the communities we go to are sporting clubs or farming communities and they can resonate with Dan’s story, which is incredibly powerful.

“We do some conversations around what are the signs and symptoms you look out for, who to engage in a mental health conversation and what skills we can put into place.”

There is also an activation, Step to the Line, that enables men to be honest about their struggles and find connection and support from others present.

“We ask the men to stand and face each other as we read out a set of statements, and to step forward if they agree.”

Loneliness, isolation, anxiety, bullying, mental health challenges and use of substances to manage mental health are some of the topics raised.

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Mannion said by asking men to be honest and look the person opposite in the eyes, they can feel safe as they open up to being vulnerable.

One attendee in The Riverland shared afterwards that, as he stepped forward, he said, “you’re just describing my life”. The man opposite also stepped forward and said, “well, I’ll keep you company then, mate”.

Towards the end of each Men’s Meals and Mental Health workshop – and on the night of the May 23 – Marc Ryan aka The Beautiful Bogan uses his comedy set to spread his message of suicide prevention, courage and hope.

Attendees take home printed materials in support of their wellbeing, including a wallet card to help them recognise the five signs of becoming mentally unwell in themselves and in others.

The Flinders University Institute for Mental Health and Wellbeing is measuring the impact of the program within the community because its aim is not just to start the conversation, but to embed it further.

“You want to leave the community in a stronger position,” Mannion said.

He believes the mental health conversation is “probably the strongest it’s ever been” but for people having that conversation with others, it is not about fixing.

“It’s about listening to somebody and validating what’s happening to them and how that’s causing them distress,” he said.

“Then, exploring how can we support you together? And what help would you like from this?

Mannion said that in his whole career, he has never “actually fixed anybody” apart from himself.

“But I’ve sat with hundreds of people who felt safe enough to talk to me, and I’ve provided that time and respect to listen to their story.

“Then together, we’ve been able to work through solutions – and majority of the time, those solutions actually come from the person themselves, not from me.”

Breakthrough’s Biggest Men’s Meals and Mental Health Dinner on May 23 will feature interviews with inspirational SA leaders including Police Commissioner Grant Stevens and Port Adelaide’s Travis Boak.

While the event is now sold out, Breakthrough’s mental health research and the Suicide Prevention Fellowship can be supported with a donation here.

If you or anyone you know needs help, phone one of these 24/7 services:
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
Lifeline on 13 11 14
MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander crisis support line 13YARN on 13 92 76
Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636
Headspace (chat with a clinician 8.30am-midnight) on 1800 650 890

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