Community concerns regarding men’s mental health are well founded. Male suicide is very high. In 2010, 1,816 males (16.4 per 100,000) died through suicide. (1)
Men who do not identify as heterosexual are particularly vulnerable due to experiences of stigma and fears of discrimination and prejudice that may lead to ‘poorer health outcomes (both physical and mental health), decreased social participation’ and the avoidance or delay in seeking help. (2)
Drug and alcohol abuse is rampant and domestic violence occurs in almost 1 in 3 relationships. (3)
Various interpretations have been offered to explain this tragic reality, as well as possible interventions to counter the harm that is enacted by men on themselves and others. Consistent with many of the theoretical understandings is the recognition that what is missing for many men is self-respect and a belief that their lives can change.
The inter-generational trauma carried within many Indigenous families has resulted in family breakdown that severely limits the number of male role models to whom young Indigenous males can turn. This is evidenced by the overall rate of imprisonment for Indigenous males as well as the over-representation of Indigenous males in juvenile detention. In the 10-17 year old age group the ratio of Indigenous males to non-Indigenous males is 28:1. (4)
Within the context of domestic violence, Jenkins (5) refers to a ‘misguided blueprint or recipe for living ’that needs to be challenged and corrected through men taking responsibility for their abusive and disrespectful behaviour. Such dramatic changes, as well as many others that could counter men’s feelings of inadequacy and failure, would undoubtedly be facilitated through learning about the life experiences of respected others. Particularly, to understand that failure is not inevitable, despite taking wrong turns and/or making serious mistakes – that in fact “failure is not the falling down but the staying down.”(6)
The ‘What Makes a Man a Man’ project seeks to address the vulnerabilities experienced by men from many different social contexts including men living in rural communities, Indigenous men and young gay men. It will provide an important community service by responding to Professor John MacDonald’s concern that we “lack initiatives that encourage help-seeking among men (and) that actively promote the value of men, their contributions to society and a range of positive male identities”. (7)
There are important government initiatives in relation to men’s health but many of these are specifically targeting youth suicide and mental health, and have done very little to engage men who are 25 and older, who are known to be resistant to accessing health related services and resources. In 2010, 40-44 year age group had the highest age-specific suicide rate for males (27.7 per 100,000), followed by the 35-39 year age group (27.5 per 100,000). The lowest age-specific suicide rate for males was in the 15-19 year age group (11.4 per 100,000)(8).
It is hoped that through many initiatives, including the ‘What Makes a Man a Man’ project, all men will have the opportunity to access the wisdom and guidance of other men, so that such devastating statistics can be dramatically reduced. The community needs to accept responsibility for making this happen. “If five whales beached themselves on Bondi Beach it would be front page news, broadcast all over the world. Enormous money, effort and resources would be utilised in trying to save them. Yet we lose five Australian men a day to suicide alone and we seem to accept that.”(9)
(3) Mouzos, J & Makkai, T 2004, ‘Women’s Experiences of Male Violence: findings from the Australian component of the International Violence Against Women Survey (IVAWS)’, Australian Institute of Criminology, Research and Public Policy Series, vol. 56
(4) Australian Indigenous Health Bulletin Vol 10 No 4 October – December 2010
(5) Jenkins, A. (2009) Becoming Ethical: A parallel, political journey with men who have abused. Dorset: Russell House Publishing.
(6) Campbell, C. (2002) The Wealthy Spirit: Daily Affirmations for Financial Stress Reduction. Illinois: Sourcebooks, Inc.
(7) Suicide Prevention Australia 2008-04-13 Media Release (Professor John MacDonald, Chair of the SPA Men and Suicide Position Statement Reference Group and Co-Director, Men’s Health Information and Resource Centre at the University of Western Sydney.)
(9) http://www.dadsin distress.asn.au
Agi O’Hara (Psychologist)