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Watch your man

He may be struggling - but he's likely to keep that to himself.

Men are at risk. Did you know:

  • According to ABS data, 3,139 people died by suicide in 2020 - with 3 out of 4 of those being men. More than 6 men per day suicide in Australia, and middle-aged men are some of those most at risk.

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men are almost twice as likely to die this way than men from other cultures.

That's bad enough - but men are also more likely to keep that to themselves. Surveys have shown that around 30% of men won't seek help for mental health issues, and certainly, that's something I've seen for myself; men tend not to seek help until they are at breaking point, and can no longer cope. That's potentially one of the reasons they suicide more frequently than women.

It was true for me, too. I was taught from an early age to push my feelings down and 'man-up', I was taught by my partners to be 'the rock'. I was taught by society that a man's role is to be the steady one, the provider, the protector - and I took all that to heart. When I began to struggle I didn't feel I had permission to recognise that, so I just kept on pushing forward up that mountain. Until the day came when I couldn't do it anymore.

Is a man in your life in the same place?

So, how do you know what's going on?

Here are ten warning signs to look for, and they are well worth checking:

  1. Losing that 'spark' It's a hard one to define, but you know this man, you know how he usually behaves. If there's something undefinable missing, if he seems a little subdued or lacking that bit of something extra, that may be a sign that his resources are taken up worrying and stressing elsewhere.

  2. Burying themselves in work This might not be a warning sign - but it can be. We know work, and it doesn't always need a solution from us, whereas the rest of life can need more. And often, more work means more money, which can alleviate some of the other issues we're facing. So if he's working more and more, that may mean he's struggling.

  3. Withdrawing from friends and family This is a big one. If they are pulling away from you, the rest of the family, and their social circle, this can definitely mean they are struggling to cope. That can easily appear as something else - you might think he's upset, he's stressed by work, you may think your relationship is in trouble or he's just so in love with his job he doesn't want to come home. And I'm not saying that's definitely not the case. But it's also entirely possible he's hiding in the one constant thing in his life that might offer a solution.

  4. Relying on alcohol or drugs to cope Again, this is a common one and an easy one to mistake for something else. Alcohol can be like a stress-relief valve for us all, and sometimes that's a good thing (in moderation). But when alcohol or drugs start to make a bigger appearance in his life, that might well mean the pressure is becoming too much. If you notice changes in usage, that's a clear warning sign.

  5. Losing self-confidence As a man, we're often taught from the earliest age that we are the 'rock', the one who has to cope. We're taught that it's our job to hold the family together, to be the protector, the provider, the safe one, the brave one, and the strong one. We're taught to hide our pain and our emotions, to push down our fears, and be that strong man the world needs us to be. When we begin to struggle, one of the first things to suffer can be our self-confidence. We feel like failures who have been unable to cope with the herculean tasks the world threw at us - and our self-confidence starts to falter. If we see ourselves as failures but can't talk to anyone about that, life gets miserable very fast.

  6. Seeming tired, or heading to bed early And of course, if he's hard at work, and maybe having the extra drink or two, heading to bed early might seem pretty standard stuff. Only, this is another coping mechanism. If he's suddenly heading to bed once work is done, and seeming to have lost interest in other activities, that can be a sign he's struggling. It's easy to hide in sleep when you don't want to face the thoughts racing through your mind. Because he may feel he can't talk, and because he's probably worried you'll ask him questions if he sits next to you all evening, he may well be heading to bed under the pretense of being exhausted as a way of avoiding those thoughts and conversations.

  7. Sudden gaining or losing weight When stressed out some people eat their feelings - I once ate three family-sized bags of chips without even blinking. We eat more junk food in search of temporary pleasure and a release of our pain and can gain weight quickly. For others it's the opposite, feeling stressed or worried can kill our appetite and make us avoid eating entirely - a common response to grief and loss, as well. So if he's eating worse, or not at all, or even jumping between the two, that's a worrying sign.

  8. Looking sad or down on a regular basis Not every man is a closed book, some will wear their feelings where you can see them. If he's looking down, then consider that it's possibly down to wider issues than you might expect. It might be that you and he are arguing, or he's worried about work - but it might also be that he's struggling to cope overall.

  9. Sudden mood swings (short temper) Similar to the previous point you may have noticed a more moody man; loss of self-confidence can come out sideways, and make us lash out at those around us. Of course, if that is a physical lashing out in any way that's abuse and needs to be responded to in a completely different light, so I am only talking about snappiness and a short temper here. If he's been more abrupt and less patient than normal, that's a strong sign that his resources are too stretched.

  10. Suicide thoughts or talk Whilst it may seem obvious, it's worth noting that this can sometimes be hard to spot. It may not be as obvious as "I have decided to kill myself because I can't cope". It may instead be a joke, or an oblique comment ("you won't have to worry much longer", or "You'd be better off without me"). You might notice a lack of interest in future plans, giving away his things, or a sudden increase in risky behaviours. I highly recommend checking out the LifeLine website to learn more, as this is an absolutely essential red flag to watch for.

What to do if you spot the signs

Firstly, don't panic - it's time to talk to him.

Find the right place and time, when there aren't others who might listen in, somewhere he's more comfortable, when he's not feeling trapped or that he has to do something else. Give him space. Then, simply ask the question - what do you need?

I know, we've been trained in 2021/2022 to ask 'RU Okay', right? But if you ask a man who's learned from society to keep it all inside if he's okay, he's most likely to respond with 'fine'. So, tell him that you've noticed a few signs, and then ask what he needs or how can you help.

What you need to do next will depend on what comes out of that conversation, but here's a simple three-point plan:

  1. Make sure you, and then he, are safe. If you feel there is any risk to your safety then you need to ensure you're safe first - and if there is any risk of suicide or self-harm, then you also need to ensure you get help straight away. If that's the case, here are a couple of contact points to help:

    1. Call 000, especially if you feel someone is at imminent risk.

    2. Lifeline: Call 13 11 14

    3. Suicide Callback Service: 1300 659 467

  2. Listen It can take a lot for men to start talking, sometimes - and when we do, we just need someone to listen. It might not all make sense, at first. It might come out all jumbled - but just listen. When a man has spent half his life burying his feelings and finally breaks his own silence to speak, the worst thing he can possibly encounter is a lack of listening or a rejection of his thoughts and reality. Hear him out, and try to use this to help with the next step.

  3. Find him the help he needs Listening is a great first step but it's not a solution - and it'll take some time to work through his issues. So, he will most likely need more support. There are many supports available out there, from peer supports to professional support and charity/free services, and I won't list them all here, but in case it helps, here's a starting point:

    1. MensLine Australia:

    2. Men’s Table:

    3. Talk2MeBro:

    4. Barstool Brothers:

    5. Man Alive:

Counselling can also help. Reach out, no one needs to struggle alone. We're here to listen.

I hope this helps someone - take care of yourselves, and each other.


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