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Men’s Mental Health: removing the stigma

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Written by Tito Ambyo

Men’s Mental Health
Removing the stigma

Enter

Men’s Mental Health

Removing the stigma


Kicker

This is a kicker.

> **”‘Boys don’t cry’… ‘soldier on’… there are all these phrases we can rattle off without even thinking about it that surround the way that men define themselves and the way that boys are brought up.”**

> _Source 1: Howard Todd\-Collins \(Director of Mens & Relationships Counselling\)_
> _Source 2: Jeremy Macvean \(Regional Director \- Asia Pacific \- Movember Foundation\)_

What comes to mind when YOU think of a man? Is it someone who’s tough? A role model? Perhaps they don’t share their feelings?

These are often the first things that come to our mind, but these ideas have proven to place enormous amounts of pressure on men and perpetuate a harmful stigma regarding their mental health.

We wanted to gain a greater insight into what people really think, so we took to Melbourne’s streets and heard their idea of what a “man” is.

> > _The number of men with mental health issues in Australia is 4.5 times the size of a G**rand Final crowd at the MCG.**_

Jake and John\* come from very different walks of life.

But for both of these men, their mental health has had an incredible impact on their lives. They have battled with their own mental health concerns and are pleased to get their message out there in the hope of helping others who might also be struggling.

**Here are their stories.**

> **”There’s a mixture of reasons why men stop talking. There’s a model which says you’ve got to suck it up and be tough, especially in emergency services and the police. It’s a culture that worries me because it stops the idea of any kind of psychological help.”**

SHE STEPPED out in front of a train. As I examined the scene and looked at the 15\-year\-olds brain matter on the railway track, I started thinking about my own two children.

Senior Sergeant John\* stayed in the police force for 37 years, but he could not handle it any longer.

Enough was enough, he says.

A build up of events during the course of his employment with Victoria Police left a permanent darkness living inside him.

A darkness that keeps him wide awake at three in the morning. A darkness that never lets him forget the smell of a rotting human body.

A darkness that is called **_post\-traumatic stress disorder._**

The sergeant, who asked for his identity to be protected, was officially diagnosed with PTSD in 1988 and still suffers from the effects today.

Throughout his career John worked on the frontline as a patrolling officer and acting sergeant and spent time working in a joint task force on drug importers.

He attended five suicides, four siege situations and recalled one horror shift where he discovered three bodies.

I remember starting the job with this incredible bullet proof feeling, but slowly things started to break that armour, he says.

John encountered his first dead body when an elderly man had died in his sleep at a St Albans home. John lifted the blanket off his limp body and was overcome by the smell of death.

At the scene of a female suicide in Avondale Heights John recalled taking a statement from the deceased mothers child who said she had gone to heaven.

In Maidstone, John attended another suicide. He took a statement from the grieving son who had just placed a blanket over the deceased body of his father.

At a separate incident in Maidstone, John recalled the stark terror as he stared down the barrel of a sawn\-off .22 rifle. Alone with the offender, John had no choice but to let him go or risk his own life.

For John, the most difficult moment to accept was when the trauma of his job came to his doorstep and threatened his family.

There were two cars parked across the road from my house. I recognised the occupants as targets from a drug ring. I became very paranoid and the sleepless nights started coming and the constant checking of windows and doors.”

From that day onwards I felt like I became from hunter to the hunted, he says.

It was later that year when John was diagnosed with PTSD.

According to Victoria Police figures, seven police officers have taken their lives in the last 30 months, including two officers who died by suicide in the same week in February this year.

Theres no option to pull officers struggling off the street for a few days, youre just told to deal with it.

Some of us can only store so much, like a vessel, there will be a time when it runs over and spills, John says.

> _Nearly eight people die by suicide each day in Australia. Six **of these are men.**_

[A 2016 mental health review of Victoria Police slammed a “suck it up” culture](http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016\-05\-31/vic\-police\-mental\-health\-review\-critical\-of\-suck\-it\-up\-culture/7461482) around mental illness that contributed to an entrenched stigma, a reluctance to seek help and a failure to recognise the warning signs among officers.

John said he was not surprised with the findings.

What choices do we have? Where can you go?”

There is no action and no reassurance that the department will support you and stick with you until you get better and become productive again, he says.

The review proposed 39 recommendations to redeem the situation.

Victoria Police Association boss Ron Iddles said he supported the recommendations and is focused on eradicating the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Senior management of Victoria Police have to lead from the top, its about inspiring trust in our members to come forward and to disclose that they are struggling with a mental illness, whether it be anxiety, depression or PTSD.”

The most important thing is that Victoria Police acknowledges that if you come forward there will be no adverse actions in regards to your employment, Iddles said.

> _>_ _Suicide is the **leading cause of death** for Australian men under 45._

Since the review in May, an app was launched in September to help police officers struggling with their mental health.

The app, _Equipt_, provides tips on dealing with stress and maintaining a healthy work\-life balance.

John says necessary steps must be taken immediately as members are showing signs of PTSD at a much earlier time in their careers today compared to his time as a beginner in the force.

After 10 years it was very common for one to start showing signs of struggle, but now Im seeing it in the younger members after just two or three years.”

Something I want to see more of is that we look after our own. Victoria police is starting to realise this and change is slowly beginning, he says.

Despite experiencing the adverse affects of PTSD for 28 years, John says there has been one light to come out of the darkness.

**As a PTSD sufferer youre always looking to hang onto some sort of hope, so when others see me talking about my struggles it is encouraging for myself and the many others out there still suffering in silence,” he says.**

How will you start the conversation?

_\*Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of our sources_

About the author

Tito Ambyo