#ITSOKAYTOTALK about suicide prevention

Matt Chapman has been part of the #ITSOKAYTOTALK social media campaign

The NSW government has announced they are accepting proposals for an $8 million suicide prevention fund, to be distributed amongst mental health groups working at a local level.

Minister for Mental Health Pru Goward is calling on non-government organisations and community groups to submit proposals for programs that aim to reduce the suicide rate across NSW, timing her announcement for R U OK? Day.

This annual day of action took place on Thursday, and this year it’s been all about the blokes. A popular hashtag #itsokaytotalk found widespread support worldwide last month, and Tumut boys have been getting involved in the vital message.

Men have been using social media to share their own experiences and thoughts around the often-misunderstood issues of mental illness and suicide, along with a selfie and this text:

“The single biggest killer of men aged under 45 is suicide. In 2014, 4623 men took their own life. That’s 12 men every day, 1 man every two hours! 41% of men who contemplated suicide felt they could not talk about their feelings. Only 20% of people know that suicide is the most likely cause of death for men aged under 45. Let’s show men across the world that #ITSOKAYTOTALK. Take a selfie and tag 5 friends and let’s get the message out!”

Tumut local Matt Chapman says that he’s not generally one for hashtags and selfies, but the importance of the issue compelled him to get involved.

“I lost a brother to suicide and have suffered from mental issues myself, so it means a bit to me,” he said. “I thought it was a pretty important message to get out there.”

Three-quarters of suicides in Australia are committed by men, and Mr Chapman thinks that the culture surrounding masculinity is a major factor in this disparity – especially in the country.

“It’s important for blokes to know it’s okay to talk. Girls as well, but especially men, especially in rural Australia where there’s the ‘tough it out’ type stigma. It’s important to let the youth know it’s okay to say their struggling.”

“It’s the way we’ve been raised,” he said. “It’s been over a hundred years of telling us we’re supposed to be tough. It’s bred into our DNA. You’re supposed to stick it out and not be a sook, but that’s starting to change.”

Mr Chapman’s Facebook post read: “I’m not normally one for selfies, nor cut and paste type posts and most definitely hash tags. However the #itsokaytotalk is something that strikes a chord in me, I’ve struck the black dog in my travels, and sadly my eldest bro came across him as well. He didn’t talk, but also I never asked. So mates and friends on facey please know it’s cool for dudes to talk about their feelings with each other.”

Founder and former president of the Adelong Men’s Shed Ian Elliott said that there is definitely a stigma around men admitting that they aren’t doing so well, but that this stigma is more perceived than actual.

“Men generally don’t like to talk about their health. Men will usually try and ignore how their feeling – ‘if I ignore it it’ll go away,’ and then it’s too late.

“If you look at suicides that get reported, the most shocked are their mates that never recognised the faintest sign that anything was wrong. If [men] aren’t going to talk to their mates, they’re less likely to talk to other people. The response of family and friends is always, ‘we never knew things were that bad, we thought things were okay.’

“Families will always help where they can. Maybe not all members, family politics goes on, but the majority of a family will pull together when somebody’s really in trouble.”

R U OK? Day aims to spread awareness and reduce the stigma around mental health by encouraging Australians to reconnect with people they’ve lost touch with, make time for those they are close to, and ask the simple question – “are you okay?”

R U OK? Conversation Expert Professor Nick Glozier said that as tempting as it may be, the best thing you can do for someone once a conversation has been started is not to jump in and try to fix their problems for them, but to listen.

“Once you start a conversation and a mate opens up, don’t rush in or leap to conclusions,” Nick said. “It’s important that you listen to what they have to say and guide the conversation with more open questions. Don’t try and fix their problems – or provide the answers – but help them identify what they can do to better manage the load.”

The Australian initiative has coincided nicely with the #ITSOKAYTOTALK hashtag, which was started by UK rugby player Luke Ambler after the suicide of his brother-in-law.

“He was at our house on Saturday having a laugh and a joke, he played football as usual on Sunday before spending time with the family and then on Monday night, he killed himself with no explanation,” Mr Ambler told The Guardian.

“Sometimes men don’t want to talk as they feel ridiculed or think that they’re putting a burden on their families. Then if you try and talk about it with the lads, it ends up being turned into banter. I began to think that there was nowhere Andy could have gone and spoken to anyone about what was going on.”

The highest rates of suicide in Australia occur amongst men aged 40-54, and those over 85. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are 5 times more likely than the general population to commit suicide.

Australia also has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the developed world.

If you are struggling with depression, please call Lifeline at 13 11 14