Discussions of mental health are moving into the mainstream, but Australia is yet to reach the point where it is treated as no different than a broken leg, or sprained wrist. Perceptions of mental illness as weakness, particularly in men, remain prevalent enough to discourage people from seeking help when they may need it the most.
Many people are actively working everyday to break down the stigma around mental illness, including Steven Gamble, the Bottcher sales manager who has now split his life between print and his non-profit organisation, Man Anchor.
For Gamble, a desire to affect positive change has grown into an organisation which encourages people to connect, talk about their issues, and educate community groups and businesses on the importance of robust mental health screening, and check-ups.
Gamble explains, “Man Anchor started after a conversation with my partner, who works in marketing. It was clear that people’s lives were completely ruled by how people perceive them on social media. From young kids, to people in their 50s, they look at the way they live their lives, and portray their lives on social media.
“I thought, imagine if you could create a space for men that disrupted that unrealistic feed, and give them a second to think about themselves, what they are doing in life, and how they are treating themselves.
“I thought about the life that I have lived personally and people that have been in my life. I thought about the ups and downs people go through with health, mental health, and cancer, and wanted to create something to make positive change in people’s lives.
“I started it online through social media accounts. I had only ever had Facebook, and no Twitter or Instagram, which I thought was for the Kardashians. I did not know the value of it, or naively what an influencer was.
“I worked out that you can reach a lot of people, quickly, and make them pause for a moment and think about what is going on through one little glance at a post. If you get the right person, at the right time, it can really make a difference.
“I started Man Anchor accounts without telling anyone, because I did not know how it would go. Almost immediately I started getting positive feedback, 10 or so likes on my first post. For me as a social media beginner, I thought I have absolutely killed it, little did I know I had a bit of work to do.
“I worked out that to reach more people, you have to engage a lot more. So I started building it slowly, and getting a lot of positive feedback from men and women on the messages I was putting out on mental health, prostate cancer, and bowel cancer, and encouraging them to start conversations with their friends and family.
“That morphed into me coming up with the #LetsTalk concept, which starts simple conversations around men’s health. It might be me sitting with you, asking: When is the last time you had a bowel cancer check? When is the last time you had your prostate checked? That might lead into questions around how your mental health is when you notice something is not right.
“When you are brave enough to talk about mental health, it opens up the floodgates, and more people are willing to talk about it. There still is a taboo, where we sometimes cannot talk about mental health, because we are too scared to offend someone, or say the wrong thing. With #LetsTalk, it was designed to take away the stigma, take away the barrier, and normalise the conversation between friends and family.”
From here, Gamble became creative, starting up an ambassador program, giving people hats, cards, and materials, and setting the ambassadors loose on BBQs, and family events. The printed materials had their desired effect, with the apparel getting people to ask the question: “what’s that about?”
Gamble admits, “Funnily enough it looks almost like ‘lets stalk’, but it stops people, and gets them to have that awkward conversation.
“Nine times out of ten, someone tells their own story, or opens up about something they are going through at the moment. It has unlocked and empowered people to have conversations they normally wouldn’t.
“Now we have 150 ambassadors around the country, men and women, split around 70/30 per cent. They are starting conversations within their own circles, and it works as a beacon where they promote it on their social media.
“Man Anchor has gone further down the mental health path because it is something I am particularly passionate about. I have had many people in my life with mental health issues, and have seen the full spectrum of mental health. For those people, I know that when they are well, they are on top of the world, but when their mental well-being is suffering they can fall down pretty far.”
The worst possible outcome of mental health issues, and illness, is suicide, which is sadly the leading cause of death for Australians between the ages of 15 and 44. It outpaces disease, car accidents, overdoses, while over 65,000 Australians make an attempt at suicide each year. In 2017, there were 3128 people that died of suicide, according to ABS data, 75 per cent of which were men, and the remaining 25 per cent women. For Australia’s Indigenous peoples, the suicide rate is more than two-times higher than that of non-Indigenous Australians.
While the majority of suicides are men, approximately six per day, when you look at attempted suicides there is a more even distribution. Female suicide is also at a 10 year high, at approximately two per day in Australia.
These are tough numbers to grasp, and most people have had their lives affected by suicide, either directly or indirectly.
Gamble has sought advice from established mental health organisations like the Black Dog Institute, Lifeline, and factored it into the workshops that Man Anchor runs.
He explains, “We run community projects, including Lets Talk workshops, where we talk about the power of conversation, and unlocking conversations with people, and the outcomes of conversations. We talk about stigmas for men and women, and the barriers we have to overcome.
“Our workshops for men get bunches of guys together in cafes, bars and lofts. We have one or two beers in a relaxed inclusive atmosphere, and talk about why it is important to have these sorts of conversations, and the benefits of having them. It can be from 10 to 50 people in a room, and those are sponsored by Furphy, a beer from Lion and personal care product Nad’s For Men.
“The key is to make the conversation more natural, taking away the potential negatives, focusing on the positives, and making the guys aware that it is okay to talk about men’s health.
“I have had so many emails after the workshops where people have said you’ve given me the confidence to speak to my partner, friend, family member, or GP. You never know who is coming to see these talks, and who it has affected, and what it’s done. You also don’t know what their role is in the business world. We have had people from CEOs to CFOs that have taken the idea and asked me to speak to the men and women in their business.
“It has been rewarding to hear people relay the message and to speak to businesses, helping them build a new culture.
“In October we launched our mental health first aid courses, run by Mental Health First Aid. We have a facilitator, and have been able to negotiate competitive pricing, where we can incentivise businesses to do mental health first aid courses.
“A mental health first aider is someone similar to a St John’s first aider – someone that has the skills, tools, and confidence to help out in a crisis, or when a mental health situation occurs where an employee might have a breakdown or crisis at work.
“It gives you the skills and confidence to assess and support them until they can seek clinical, professional help.
“So it does not give you all the answers, but it does give you some confidence, and help in building that rapport, and getting them to seek professional help.
Support from the industry
Gamble says the work he does would be impossible without support and understanding from his employer, Bottcher Systems Australia and managing director Mitchell Mulligan, first and foremost.
He has also gained support from people in the printing industry like Matt Aitken of IVE Group, who has introduced mental health first-aid courses to the business.
Aitken says, “Steven Gamble, who heads up Man Anchor, for which I am an ambassador of, will be providing their first course to us, with 20 of our staff completing a mental health first aid course before Christmas.
“We already have a number of our staff in the business that have their mental health first aid certificates. One of the things that we recognise is that mental health for our employees, and our people, their families, the communities that they live in, is just as important as first aid and workplace health and safety in our business.
“We need to better equip our leaders, and our people to better understand, engage, and deal with employees and staff who are experiencing mental health issues, and challenges, whether that is themselves, or through the workplace, or a family situation.
“I am sponsoring the roll out of Mental First Aid in our group with the rollout of Man Anchor at the forefront.
“When we put staff through the program, we are funding someone else from a not-for-profit to experience the same program. For the 20 staff that I put through that program for Man Anchor, 20 people from sporting clubs, not-for-profits will be put through the same program. Most of them cannot afford to do a program like this, but they are critical parts of our community where mental health challenges play themselves out. We need people to be able to ask questions, and engage their colleagues accordingly.”
Signs to look out for
There are a few common signs that you may notice in a friend, a loved one, or even yourself that might reveal a struggle with mental health. Behaviour changes might include that they are withdrawn, not able to complete tasks, are relying on alcohol or drugs, have a lack of concentration, or are abstaining from social events.
You might feel, or have their feelings described to you as being overwhelmed, feeling guilty, irritable, frustrated, low-confidence, unhappy, indecisive, disappointed, miserable, or simply sad.
There are physical signs that can manifest also, from being tired all the time, feeling sick and run down, experiencing headaches or muscle pain, a churning stomach, a loss or change in appetite, or significant weight loss or gain.
But how do you start the conversation when you have noticed the signs?
Gamble says, “You have to be honest, open, and show empathy. It could be something like: ‘John, I’ve noticed that you haven’t been yourself lately, is everything okay? You know if it’s not I’m always here to talk and support.’
“Do not freak out if they do reach out, just listen, let them talk, give them time to contemplate what they have to say. Do not be dismissive, do not be judgemental, and be aware of your own unconscious bias.”
Gamble refers to the ‘same-same, but different’ theory, which suggests that as individuals the way we view and breakdown experience and information is different. You may have the same ethical and moral beliefs as someone in your life but the way they are affected by a situation or crisis can be completely different to your own experience.
Business case for mental health investment
Research has shown that businesses that invest in the mental health of their employees get a great return in productivity, with less sick leave taken, and a better workplace culture.
For Gamble, this means he can pitch the programs to businesses on multiple benefits.
He says, “I only read the other day that the return on investment for mental health in businesses is close to $4.30 for every dollar spent. That is across sick leave, and productivity in the workplace, so this represents a good return on investment in a business space.
“For every person we put through in the mental health first aid course, it creates and funds a position for someone in the community to do it, so a netball club, surf lifesaving club, or football club. So businesses are also helping give people in the community these skills.
“We are in talks at the moment with a number of sporting associations. The corporates, and business get the skills, and feel really good about being able to give back to the community.
“I have set myself a goal of 100 places from October 2018 to October 2019. That means 100 corporates, funding an additional 100 places in the community.
“We also sponsor award systems to build cultures in sporting teams, where conversations about mental health can happen everyday. At the end of each match, when they give out man of the match, they give an additional award and say, ‘We are here to support you both on and off the field, if you feel like you need to talk to anyone, we are here to listen’.
“It really breaks down barriers, if you are playing football or soccer with someone, it creates the opportunity to reach out and start that conversation. It has worked, we get a lot of feedback from players and coaches.”
The takeaway message from the work Gamble has been doing is clear — take note of your workmates, loved ones, and family, and make an effort to talk, clear the air, and share how you feel.
Let’s talk about mental illness, let’s talk about men’s health, and let’s work towards an industry where people feel free to express how they are feeling.
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