As we inch towards a COVID-normal, it’s more important than ever that we prioritise mental health.
On average, one in eight men will experience depression and one in five men will experience anxiety at some stage of their lives.
Blokes make up an average of six out of every eight suicides every single day in Australia.
The number of men who die by suicide in Australia every year is nearly double the national road toll.
They’re some scary statistics from Beyond Blue, and unfortunately, they’re statistics that stem from the difficulty that some men have in opening up and talking about how they are feeling, therefore having serious impacts on their mental health and wellbeing.
Alongside pre-existing struggles with mental health, the recent disruption to normal life caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the required restrictions has had even more profound impacts on the mental health and wellbeing of many Australians, with the deep anxiety about one’s economic future and feelings of loneliness and isolation among the most significant issues.
Trying to go it alone when you’re feeling down during this time increases the risk of depression or anxiety going unrecognised and untreated, and depression is a high-risk factor for suicide and plays a contributing role to the big difference in suicide rates for men and women.
That’s where The Man Walk comes in.
Originally started two years ago by Kiama physiotherapist Mark Burns (who simply began walking each weekday morning to improve his own mental health and productivity in general life, but was soon joined by both friends and strangers), The Man Walk has become an important vehicle in men’s mental health by creating a space available for men to talk about how they’re going.
With a simple motto at the helm – walk, talk, support – this initiative has touched thousands of people across the country, including Geelong residents Chris Lytas and Luke Outerbridge, two strangers who came together in early 2019 to initiate The Man Walk Geelong with the aim of boosting men’s physical and mental well-being to meet the need in the community for such free, informal support in Victoria’s second-largest city.
For Luke, the catalyst for change was following an encounter with a friend who was silently battling mental health issues and who had reached the point of wanting to take his own life.
“It really took me back; I had no idea, and questioned why he didn’t reach out,” Luke reveals. “He just said he didn’t know how to approach reaching out; how to talk about it. He just needed someone to talk to, so I went right, okay, I need to do something here, I’m forming something in Geelong. I just didn’t know what to do or what that was.”
Through a mutual friend, Luke was connected to Chris, who shares the same desire to shine a light on men’s mental health in Geelong following the loss of a close friend to suicide three years ago.
“I look back now, and I realise I dealt with that the way a lot of blokes deal with it – I didn’t,” Chris explains. “I threw myself into work, ignored everything else, suppressed it, and at some point, something was going to snap… and it did. That snap – once I got through it and came out the other side – was me giving myself that kick up the arse to go, ‘you can go left or you can go right, what way do you want to go?’ And I chose right.”
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In July 2019, two men were introduced to each other and from that initial meeting, a plan was hatched to change the narrative when it came to Men’s Mental Health here in Geelong and the broader region. A committee of amazing men was formed, a brand created and today the Right Mate website has been switched on and that plan has become a reality. Welcome to Right Mate – we’re planning some pretty awesome things and we welcome you to join our mission to make sure that we all are…Right Mate. Cheers, Chris & Luke http://www.rightmate.org.au/ #right.mate #mentalhealth #mencantalk #runformymind #stigmastopswithme #mensmentalhealth #itsoktotalk #itsokaynottobeokay #anxiety #depression #suicideprevention
Since starting The Man Walk Geelong a year ago, Luke and Chris have spent their Saturday mornings and Wednesday evenings walking, providing a non-judgemental, casual and supportive environment for blokes in Geelong at any age doing it tough… Some coming on their own, others with friends; it’s seen fathers and sons, as well as complete strangers; some touched by suicide, some with family issues; and some who just want a support network.
On Saturdays, the groups meets at Orchid and Co Cafe to pick up a takeaway coffee from 8am. The leisurely walk sees the group walk together for 45-60 minutes in line with all Government regulations, maintaining social distancing throughout and returning to the cafe at 9am.
Wednesdays follows a similar format, with the group meeting at the Eastern Beach fountain at 7pm. Walking via Blis ice cream on the waterfront, the men continue their walk along the waterfront and return to the fountain at around 8pm.
“The idea behind it is to build some habit, build a sense of community for men, get them talking, and give them an understanding that they’re not on their own and it’s okay to speak up, or just even build some social connections,” explains Chris. “There is no formal process to it, but we’ve got men who feel that they want to come and that they need to come, for their own benefit more so than anything.
“What we have most of all though is a community,” he continues. “A community of men who now have a safe space they can come to every week, free of judgment, all-inclusive and with no expectation of who or what they should be.”
With a need social interaction in this current climate alongside the recent Government restrictions, The Man Walk pivoted into the digital space earlier this year amidst the height of Victoria’s lockdowns. Running via Zoom every Wednesday night from 7pm, the ‘walk’ ran simply as an online catch up, giving participants the chance to talk, socialise or just sit back and listen to others until the walks could return.
Filling a gap for men who want a bit of activity and a bit of communication in their lives, now more than ever, Chris and Luke don’t take their responsibility lightly, having also launched Right Mate – an online hub with links to community-based men’s groups, links to professional services and resources for people to be able to access, that cover a range of topics. There is even a selection of deliverable programs tailored to sporting clubs, Dad’s groups, Schools and the female audience, which they see as key to breaking down the stigma of Mens’ mental health.
Their aim is to build a community of men who not only look out for each other but are comfortable in their skin, and ultimately, have the skills to encourage others to do the same.
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12 months ago today, two blokes who’d never met before, caught up at a cafe in South Geelong after a mutual friend thought it’d be a cracking idea. Those two blokes were me and @proxyluke and on that day, the seeds of Right Mate were born. Twelve months later, our little idea has grown some legs and then some. Mate, the past year has been nothing short of spectacular. From launching The Man Walk and building an amazing community of blokes, to bringing Right Mate to life and finding ourselves talking to Schools, being invited to be part of panels and every other opportunity that has come our way, I know that together, we are making a difference. You my friend, are an incredibly humble, honest, caring and selfless human being and there is no one else I’d rather change the way we not only talk about Mental Health but change how society reacts to it with. So here’s to the next twelve months and beyond my friend – I’ve got your back just like I know you’ve got mine and together we’ll make sure we’re Right Mate.
With the first step to improving mental health being the encouragement of conversation and making space available for men to talk about how they’re going, The Man Walk Geelong, and now Right Mate, is a monumental step forward in providing a safe place for blokes to get together and support each other in Geelong.
Head on down to Orchid and Co on Saturday at 8am, or head to the Eastern Beach Fountain on Wednesday at 7pm.
If you need someone to talk to, Lifeline can be contacted 24/7 on 13 11 14. Beyondblue can also be contacted on 1300 22 4636.