Blokes aren’t bulletproof and most don’t have a good mate they can talk to about personal stuff, says Jeff Brown.
Today is RUOK Day and Jeff is keen to kick start conversations about mental health with the hope it will prompt men to get support and reduce social stigma.
He owns Laser Electrical Taree and knows the challenges of small business, knows the limits men place on conversations and knows something must change to stop men from being over-represented in suicide statistics.
According to mental health organisation beyondblue “blokes make up an average six out of every eight suicides every single day in Australia.”
This year he is talking about the need for men to talk to each other and importantly, to their GP.
He says “honest conversations make a difference” and is emotional as he speaks of the power of men sharing their struggles with mental health.
“At our group conference one of our members who has a very big business up the coast openly spoke about his struggles. We stayed at his house and to me, this guy had it all going on - the beautiful home, big business, the kids were working with him in the business - everything was amazing and then he got up on stage in front of 500 people and told us about his breakdown and how he nearly went over the edge.
It was really, really moving and powerful and I think that honesty breaks down barriers. He talked about how he dealt with it, how he got over it and it’s those honest conversations that make a difference.
Jeff is quick to identify the social stigma of mental health issues and a perception of weakness as two main reasons why men try to ignore how they are feeling.
“We now know that it’s an illness, a chemical imbalance in the brain, but changing people’s understanding takes time, and the traditional view of weakness is hard for men.
“Conversations are the solution and it’s really important that we understand that we are not bulletproof. If you feel like you are struggling then just go and see your GP. It’s an easy conversation, just go and talk to your GP.
“I’ve got a really good GP. I went for a check-up several years ago when we were going through a tough time with the business and I had to lay a guy off, which I just hated having to do and it really affected me. My GP was straight on to that, asking how are you feeling? I could see him testing the waters, just wanting to check that I was OK.
“A lot of us probably don’t have that one good mate we can talk to. In varying degrees, men just don’t have that type of friendship. If you’re having trouble with your relationship, or whatever else, there is no way most blokes would go and talk to a mate about that, it’s just not in their DNA.
I would never reject a mate who shared stuff with me, and that’s the stupid thing about. I don’t know whether we are socially conditioned or it’s built into us.
Jeff believes changing expectations are a contributing factor to the decline in men’s mental health.
“Once upon a time you worked an eight-hour day and you’d bring home a reasonable wage and everyone could get by, and that was enough, but now there is a lot more expectation.
“It’s our mentality, we have to be the bread winner, the strong one, who can deal with pressure and stress. It’s a lot to deal with and can impact on your physical and mental health.
“I think because women are so good at talking about those things, there has been a lot of emphasis put into how we can help women, whereas I think we have missed just how much pressure there is on men.”