MEN have been told to shelve the tough guy image and “soften the f--- up”.
The provocative message is part of a new grassroots mental health campaign that will be launched in Brisbane next week.
Former Brisbane-based mental health advocate Ehon Chan said he started talking to his mates last year about how to ensure men looked after their friends and felt free to seek help.
“Suicide is the number one cause of death amongst young people in Australia and 80 per cent of those are men and to me it means we're failing our own mates, despite our strong mate culture,” the Spur Projects founder said.
Mr Chan said masculine social constructs were an obstacle to men seeking help, with people who complain about their problems often told to “harden the f--- up”.
He said he was keen to reduce the stigma around mental health issues and allow men to tell, hear and read stories on such topics.
“Sometimes we do need to 'harden the f--- up', but I think we should all feel comfortable talking about problems,” he said.
“I think the whole 'harden the f--- up' [mentality means] when you seek help you worry about your mates thinking you're weak or soft or not trying hard enough, and you think you're losing control over the situation.
“[I want to] try to change men's thinking that real men don't seek help; [it should be that] you know who you are and you know when things are tough and you seek help.”
Mr Chan said the group of seven who first started talking about the campaign a year ago swelled to 40 volunteers when the project was opened up to others via social media a few months ago.
He said the “Soften the F--- Up” campaign website, to be launched on Friday next week, would contain stories and videos of men talking about dealing with mental health issues and information on how to seek help.
A professional football player contributed an anonymously written article for the site.
Mr Chan said the aim was to use social media to spread the message and website link, as men were more likely to trust recommendations from their mates.
Australian Medical Association Queensland president Richard Kidd, who is not involved with the campaign, said he was supportive of any attempt to raise awareness of mental health issues.
He said it was important to promote ways for people to seek help and understand that they were not alone in dealing with such problems.
Dr Kidd said suicide was the biggest killer of those under the age of 25.
“One of the big issues is that when people are in that black hole they often don't see a way of talking to their mates about it and feel if anything that they'll be even more ostracised if they say anything,” he said.
“We need to change the culture so that men actually see it's a good thing to see your doctor on a regular basis.”
Suicide Prevention Australia chairman Michael Dudley said it was important to tackle the notion that it was “somehow thought of as wussy” to seek help.
Dr Dudley said there was a need to bridge the gap between services and men, who sometimes “think they should tough it out or basically thing it's a matter of pulling up their socks”.
“I'd say don't keep it to yourself, make sure that you reach out and make sure that you talk to a mate about what's going on,” he said.
“Blokes in rural areas, blokes on the land, there's blokes all over the country who are suffering in silence.
“Don't be reluctant about reaching out for help and if you think your mate's in trouble make sure you talk to him.”
Mr Chan agreed that men were generally reluctant to seek help, whether for mental or other health issues.
He said people who had heard about the “Soften the F--- Up” campaign had generally been supportive.
“I think some people will probably laugh it off and think it's a bunch of bullshit and men should be men ... but ultimately I think when more people talk about it, I think it will put the message out [and spark discussion],” Mr Chan said.
The comments came after the release of a new report on suicide by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing.
The committee found that suicide still accounted for almost one quarter of all deaths among men in Australia under the age of 25, and almost one in seven deaths among young women.
However, the report said evidence suggested the rate of youth suicide had declined since 1997.
The committee recommended better research and early intervention measures. It also called for efforts to improve mental health literacy among young people so they could better recognise when they need help.
* Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling Lifeline on 131 114, Mensline on 1300 789 978 or Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800. Alternatively, visit a local GP.