Soften the f—k up
Australian men think it is easier to take their own life than to talk to someone.
Ten’s Late News is a fairly frenetic affair these days with host Hamish Macdonald popping up in so many different spots around the studio you half expect him to throw to the weather from the carpark, riding a unicycle. So, last week it was all the more poignant when sports presenter Brad McEwan opened up about his family’s struggle with suicide and depression. The frank discussion surrounded the launch of the Soften the F--- Up campaign to help men talk about their problems and confront mental health issues.
McEwan lost his father and brother to suicide and talked about it with a lump in his throat and a tear in his eye, speaking of the bravery it takes for men to share a problem.
Soften the F--- Up founder Ehon Chan put it even more starkly saying that Australian men think it is easier to take their own life than to talk to someone.
I have never experienced depression, but I feel it has been a constant companion throughout my life. My mother had debilitating depression when I was growing up making getting out of bed a daily struggle. My biological father killed himself when he was 43. Last year my wife was also diagnosed with it.
We are all likely to know someone who has depression, but we may not know that they have it -- if they are unwilling to talk about it.
Knowing that mental health can be hereditary, I am keeping a very close eye on my two sons, because with the black dog circling for so long I am just waiting for it to bite.
The eldest, five, is a soft soul and I worry that I have already told him on more than one occasion to harden up. Generally it was in relation to physical pain, because he can make removing an old Band-Aid seem like open-heart surgery, but I’m still concerned that the message may make him close himself off. It is too easy in the heat of the moment sometimes to say something so cliché and having seen the Soften Up campaign I will choose my language more wisely, because my eldest is very keen to share at the moment and that’s a communication channel I wish to remain open.
The youngest, two, is very different. Even at this tender age he has started to hold in his emotions. When he gets upset he tends to drop the bottom lip, but fight hard against the urge to cry. When my wife and I dropped his brother at school for the first time this year we were both a bit emotional but had not considered the effect it would have on a toddler. Only when we realised how quiet he was did we look back and he was sitting in his child seat, lip quivering but with his face set hard against letting the tears fall. We had to pull over, unbuckle him and bring him into the front of the car for him to finally cry.
He seems to need permission, something we have never sought to teach him. And I worry about this tendency to hold things in at such a young age. What is a natural trait and what is a warning sign?
How much is it intrinsic for males to hold back emotions and to keep things to themselves and how much is society’s pressure to do so? And how is it changing? For me, I may have more permission to share my problems but with increased hands-on parenting and the juggling of work and life there are more problems to go around.
With the boys, all I can do is keep watching … and keep talking. And hope that they learn to do the same.
Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling Lifeline 131 114, Mensline 1300 789 978 and Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.