Black Tie Ball founder Emma Joseph and guest speaker Carl Nelms from Blokes Psychology.
Black Tie Ball founder Emma Joseph and guest speaker Carl Nelms from Blokes Psychology. Kathryn Lewis

Why career and family isn't enough for men

GRAFTON'S Black Tie Ball was all about speaking frankly and openly about mental health and this year the impact it has on men was at the forefront on Father's Day eve.

Keynote speaker was founder of Blokes Psychology Carl Nelms, who shared his experiences as a Melbourne-based psychologist counselling "boys and men of all ages".

He said his work in that realm was to try to overcome the stigma of men's mental health, help them to reach out for support and ultimately stop them suffering in silence.

"It's been an overwhelming success but we have a hell of long way to go in this space."

Mr Nelms said of the eight suicides that occur in Australia every day, "six are usually blokes" and that can be higher in rural regional areas.

 

He began by exploring what it means to be a man traditionally in Australia, the "stoicism, courage, strength, breadwinner". Qualities that are celebrated and idolised in this stereotypical masculine or male hero character.

"These are not all bad as they enable us to be successful and resilient in a range of domains but we can't be so rigid by clinging to these qualities all the time," Mr Nelms said.

"By doing so we not only hamstring ourselves but hamstring other blokes and the younger generation of boys looking up to us."

He said blokes needed to know when it was okay to be vulnerable and to be seen.

"To put away that 'she'll be right mate' mentality. As blokes, we are internalising, compartmentalising and bottling up thoughts, feelings, emotions and stresses. It's okay to do sometimes but not as your only coping mechanism."

He said the first thing he often asked a client was how they felt about being there.

"As soon as I ask that they simply break down... overwhelming, uncontrollable tears. For a lot of blokes that's the first time they have fully acknowledged and allowed themselves to confront the fact something is not right.

"Too often it's been bottled up for years. I'm talking five, 10, 20, 30 years of stuff sometimes and they've just relied on themselves to get through."

Mr Nelms acknowledged there was also a youth mental health crisis happening but in order to get the younger generation to reach out for help the older generation needed to role model that not only through words but actions.

"Not all blokes are uncomfortable expressing emotions. Look at any sporting club around Australia and you see raw emotion," he said.

"We've got AFL finals coming up and you will see blokes crying and screaming at the TV or at the stadium. See blokes hugging and crying. Sadly, for too many of us when you leave that context or social sporting arena, emotional expression is simply not okay."

He said another problem was men tended to neglect themselves while providing for families.

"They lose their social connections as life kicks in. They get careers, partner up, have kids, mortgages, the beautiful responsibilities of life. Too many blokes lose themselves on that treadmill.

"Fathers these days are more engaged with families than any other generation but it has become extremely problematic when that is all they are in terms of their identity."

Pro-actively maintaining social connections outside of work and family was important.

"That's why Men's Shed and initiatives like that are fantastic for blokes. Not having a social network to talk through tough times, a friend to confide in, someone there for us in good and bad," Mr Nelms said.

"Having anxiety or depression is not a sign there is something wrong. It's a sign some fundamental human needs are not being met. No shame in taking care of your mental health.

Grafton Men's Shed member Greg Ryan and Eddie Chapman look over Debra the Zebra, created to raise money for palliaitve care.
Grafton Men's Shed member Greg Ryan and Eddie Chapman look over Debra the Zebra, created to raise money for palliaitve care. Adam Hourigan Photography

"I should be able to talk about my anxiety popping up no differently to talking about my hamstring that I've strained at footy training. I should be able to talk about my psych appointment in two weeks no differently to talking about my physio appointment last night."

Mr Nelms hoped everyone could take something away from the evening and in the coming weeks "speak to two, three, four or five people about that 'thing'.

For more info visit www.blokespsychology.com.au. If this article has raised any concerns, contact Lifeline 131114 or MensLine Australia 1300789978.