I clearly remember the first time I saw my Dad cry. We were living in Helensvale at the time, so I must have been about eleven years old. I heard Dad answer the phone and as the conversation progressed I could tell by his voice that something was wrong. I came into the kitchen and saw him put down the phone. He looked at my Mum and said “Peter’s dead.” Then the most extraordinary thing happened – I saw tears running down his cheeks. Up to that point, I didn’t think Dads cried.
The conversations that followed confused me greatly. You see, Dad’s cousin Peter, who he had grown up with, but hadn’t seen in years and who I had never met, had taken his own life. I had never heard of that happening before. What do you mean? Why did he do that?
I am not sure of the answers my parents gave me, but I do recall thinking often about Peter as I grew up. My Dad is a hero, he has counselled countless people over the years, saved people from drowning and has even helped to bring a lady back to life. And yet he couldn’t save this man, a man he had clearly loved as a child. I found it all difficult to understand.
I suppose my understanding had increased by the time my Auntie rang me ten years later to say that the body of her beloved son David had been found. Again, he had taken his own life. I have been passionate about developing close friendships with other men ever since.
Last week a patient asked me why we are growing our moustaches for Movember. I explained that we were raising money for Beyond Blue, an organisation that provides information and support to help everyone in Australia achieve their best possible mental health. I explained to him that 75% of all suicides in the year 2013 were men and that suicide was the leading cause of death for males and females between the ages 15 and 44. He was amazed at the statistics, but then he asked a very important question: “How is growing a Mo going to help?”
You see, he was correct. What did growing a Mo do for us as men and for our roles in improving mental health? Besides raising awareness and a bit of cash, not much. We need to do a lot more. We men need to take responsibility for checking on our mates. Not just texting R U OK? But talking to them and spending time with them.
The Lifeline website suggests that we need to be direct and unafraid of discussing mental health issues and suicide with those we feel are at risk. Just by asking we are demonstrating our love and giving someone a chance to openly discuss what is happening in their lives.
Not all men are great at sitting round and having a coffee. Think about what you and your mates like doing and organise some time together. Whether that involves building a retaining wall, chopping down some trees, going camping or bush walking or just having a beer on the deck. Make that time count, be open, be honest and be willing to listen. Who knows, you might just save a life.