• Growing up, there were no conversations around what you should do when you’re feeling down. (E+ / Getty Images)
“You were never supposed to talk about your feelings.”
By
Yasmin Noone

26 Sep 2019 - 9:10 AM  UPDATED 23 Oct 2019 - 9:33 AM

Like many Australian men, John Clark, 48, was raised under the banner of stoicism, encouraged to always maintain a stiff upper lip throughout life’s hardships.

“You were never supposed to talk about your feelings,” says Clark, who spent his early youth on a farm in western Victoria. “Growing up, there were no conversations around what you should do when you’re feeling down, depressed, anxious, afraid or any of those feelings that men don’t really like to associate themselves with.

“As a male, you were just supposed to get on with it and plough ahead through life’s challenges.”

That was until he hit age 40 and experienced a serious burnout at work.

“As a male, you were just supposed to get on with it and plough ahead through life’s challenges.”

“At the time, I didn't feel like I was performing,” Clark tells SBS. “So I did what most men do and had a ‘cup of cement, Sunshine’ and just worked harder. I ignored my feelings of distress, pain and low mood. It was a recipe for disaster.

“I became severely depressed, anxious and started to plan my own death because I couldn't cope anymore. I just thought ‘I cannot function. I'm a complete failure’. But never, at any point, did I make a connection between what I was experiencing and my health.”

Clark also started drinking heavily to supress his emotions. “I was using alcohol daily. Some days I was drinking at 10AM, which was a real concern.”

Eventually, Clark came across the Beyond Blue website and completed an anxiety and depression checklist. “I ticked nine out of 10 of the symptoms of depression. At the bottom of it, it said, ‘you're severely depressed. You need to go to the doctor’.”

“I ticked nine out of 10 of the symptoms of depression. At the bottom of it, it said, ‘you're severely depressed. You need to go to the doctor’.”

Although Clark was relieved to find out more about what his symptoms might be related to, it took him another six months before he sought professional help. Clark happily reports that now, he only drinks socially. He’s also feeling better than ever, having shifted his version of masculinity away from the stoic Aussie male stereotype.

“The bottom line is that if you lose your health, you lose everything. It's just not worth it.”

There may be other issues at play

When Struggle Street season three debuts on SBS this October, viewers will meet Rodney, an Aussie bloke who lives in the small town called The Rock near Wagga Wagga. Rodney is battling mental ill health, alcoholism and emphysema.

“I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia,” Rodney says in the series. “I’m not a people person. I’m paranoid 24/7 about everything.That’s a lot to do with why I drink.”

As viewers learn, there’s a host of other things going on for Rodney underlying his dire circumstances. He exists without a permanent home, is depressed and lonely.

“I know I’m better than doing this sh*t,” Rodney states, referring to his vices. “It doesn’t matter how much I drink or how much I smoke. It doesn’t stop the f**ing heartache [of not being with my family].”

As Rodney has endured years of emotional, mental and physical suffering alone, he assumes he has to somehow cure his vices alone. “I gotta work it out in … me own brain to get off the sh*t”.

Help is on hand

According to Beyond Blue, men are still far less likely to seek help for mental health conditions than women.

Director of The Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use at The University of Sydney, Professor Maree Teesson, says although some men may feel that they are alone, there’s always help available.

“The thoughts that [a stoic male may] have are ‘I need to rely on myself’,” explains Teeson, a Professorial Fellow at the Black Dog Institute. “They may have a sense of humiliation and defeat [when things go wrong]. So when their capacity to cope gets threatened, it can leave them vulnerable to mental health issues and suicide.”

Prof Teeson adds that the signs of stoicism and poor mental health, particularly among men, are often evident in external behaviours like drug and alcohol use.

Prof Teeson adds that the signs of stoicism and poor mental health, particularly among men, are often evident in external behaviours like drug and alcohol use.

“How do we identify these signs and then speak to the people who are experiencing problems rather than just have this stoic idea that you better just pull your socks up,” asks Teeson. “How do we allow them to get help?”

“It’s all about getting in early and helping when we can.”

Teeson encourages men who want help but may be too embarrassed to see a professional face-to-face to jump on the phone and call a help line. Lifeline, Beyond Blue, MensLine Australia are just three options.

Alternatively, online therapy programs are available, especially for people living in rural Australia without access to specialised health services. The Black Dog Institute also offers online training courses on mental health for workplaces, schools and community groups, as well as face-to-face sessions.

For those who want to focus on preventing mental health issues and challenging the stoic male stereotype, Tomorrow Man runs workshops for boys and men that focus on redefining masculinity. The Top Blokes Foundation fosters young men’s social inclusion and aims to build emotional and social resilience.

If this article has raised an issue for you or you are in need of support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or Black Dog or MensLine Australia.

Season 3 of Struggle Street airs on Wednesdays at 8.30pm on SBS. The four-part documentary series continues weekly on Wednesdays. Episodes will stream at SBS On Demand after broadcast.

Catch up on episode one:

These videos were produced in partnership with SBS and the University of Sydney’s Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use, Social Policy Research Centre, and Charles Sturt University.

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