IT IS an invisible pain, hurting young men every day. But you won’t hear about it on the nightly news.
A recent national survey has revealed nearly one in 10 men under 25 have contemplated suicide.
The Young and Well National Survey, conducted by the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, surveyed 1400 men from around Australia, aged between 16 and 25. One in five felt that life was hardly worth living.
Associate professor Jane Burns, the lead researcher on the study, said the results were saddening.
“We have known for a long time that men do not fare well in both health and mental health terms,” she said.
“Young men are more likely to take their own lives, die in accidents, have a drug or alcohol problem and are over-represented in the justice system. The study has really highlighted that our 16-to-25-year-olds require additional support.”
Prof Burns said there was a “simple reason” the study focused on young men: they have higher mortality rates, die younger and are reluctant to seek help.
“Our research over the last decade clearly shows that young men want to manage their problems on their own,” she said.
Eighteen-year-old Taylor*, interviewed in the study, said men are portrayed in media and fictional tales as “powerful, solitary and confident heroes”. Young men attempting to emulate those role models may not seek professional help.
When Taylor urged a close friend to speak to a doctor about depression, he responded: “Nah, I’m stronger than that. I don’t need their help; I can get through this without medication.”
Prof Burns said we have created a culture where vulnerability is frowned upon.
“We portray what it means to be a strong man [with] images of physically robust and mentally robust men,” she said. “This is a really conflicting message for men, and young men. Are they strong and the providers, or should they be new age and sensitive but also strong and supportive?”
Coping with stress and body image were reported as the biggest issues facing young men. Of those surveyed, 50 per cent reported stress as their main concern and 41 per cent said they worried every day about their physical appearance.
Those statistics scare journalist and broadcaster Paul Murray “right to the core” – and it’s a topic he, unlike the mainstream media, couldn’t overlook.
Speaking on his Sky News program PM Live, he said there are “far sexier and easier things to cover” like reforms to the Labor Party, the PNG solution and a royal baby.
“But there are people amongst us who are hurting … our mates, our kids, our nephews. Please reach out to young people who you know that are in trouble,” he urged viewers.
“As somebody who has understood the difficulties that you’ve been through … there is always someone who cares about you. The world well and truly will miss you. You are not alone.”
Murray said it was a real shame the survey “barely made a ripple in the news”.
The government has “very strict guidelines” on the reporting of suicide and getting the media excited about the positive aspects of mental health was difficult, Prof Burns said.
“Unfortunately the way that has been interpreted has meant that we don’t have tough conversations about how hard some people are doing it, what help is available and where they should go for help.
“No one really wants to read the story of the four young people who live with mental illnesses but are a successful doctor, actor, business developer and psychology student. They are stories of success.”
There are “plenty of options” for people going through a tough time, she said.
“Jump onto ReachOut.com or Headspace. Mensline Australia has a confidential free service. The main thing for anyone experiencing a hard time is to not go it alone.”
It’s the message the organisers of R U OK? Day spread last Thursday – and all year round – by encouraging all Australians to ask their families, friends and colleagues the simple question, so often overlooked: “Are you OK?”
According to the Bureau of Statistics, more than 2,300 Australians take their own life each year. Suicide is the biggest killer of Australians aged 15 to 34, and Lifeline estimates that 65,000 people attempt suicide each year.
“The first step to getting help is often the hardest,” Prof Burns said. “But help is available and no one should suffer without support.” – by Evan Zlatkis
Lifeline 13 11 14
*Name has been changed.