Conversations a key to preventing male suicide

Queenslanders are being urged to start potentially life-saving conversations with the men in their lives this week.

It is Men’s Health Week, and Queensland Mental Health Commissioner Ivan Frkovic and Australian Men’s Health Forum (AMHF) CEO Glen Poole are encouraging wellbeing conversations with and between men and boys.

Mr Frkovic said it was important for men to build social networks, join community groups, and make an effort to spend time together to combat mental ill-health – particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for men, and they are three times more likely to die by suicide than women,” Mr Frkovic said.

“Men face an increased risk of suicide, and they respond to stress and difficult experiences in gendered ways.

“This means we must take a gendered approach to addressing men’s social and emotional health and wellbeing.”

Mr Frkovic said Every life: The Queensland Suicide Prevention Plan included targeted action for men’s suicide prevention.

“This includes working with leaders men’s health, such as the AMHF, to understand and respond to men’s distress and suicidality.

“At-risk cohorts include men in construction, rural and remote areas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, men who identify as gay or bisexual, veterans, older men and men experiencing relationship breakdown.

“We need to focus on offering the right help to men at the right time, rather than expecting men to seek help.

“This is why programs that take suicide prevention and wellbeing to spaces that men are in – construction, sports and so on – are of particular importance.”

Mr Poole said the COVID-19 pandemic was likely to have a significant effect on men’s mental wellbeing and, while organisations and governments were working to provide support, some men would fall through the cracks.

“Overnight, coronavirus and our response to it has taken away many of the supports that keep men mentally well and healthy,” he said.

“Things like work, and social connection through sport, activities like fishing, camping, going cycling or walking with mates.

“We know having good work, regular income and strong relationships are the key things that keep men mentally healthy.

“Many of those things are under strain now and there is a risk that some men will begin to lean on unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as alcohol or other drugs.”

Mr Poole said everyone could play a part in contributing to mentally healthy communities.

“Who can you look out for and reach out to in your circles and groups who may not be travelling so well?” he said.

“Men may not be great at getting help, but men tend to like to give help. That’s a great strength.

“It doesn’t have to be heavy conversation. Just get in the practise of maintaining contact with those people you care about.

“Start connecting with people in your life before they need help – then you’re already in conversation and have a relationship with them when they need help.

“And it doesn’t need to be talking, it can just be spending time with someone.

“There are many grassroots, community-led men’s mental health groups in Queensland, and many of those have embraced the online space during COVID-19. These are groups like men’s sheds, barbecue groups, walking and social groups.

“Historically, men have relied on work for social networks, but now they’re building social networks in other ways.”

Groups in Queensland include:

For resources on how to start a conversation about men’s social and emotional health:

To seek help:

  • Beyond Blue, 1300 22 46 36
  • Mental Health Access Line 1300 64 22 55

If reporting on suicide, consider the Mindframe guidelines here.

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