You’ve heard all the cliches before. Men don’t cry. Blokes shouldn’t talk about their feelings. Harden up. Toughen up. Cheer up.
I’ve heard it plenty over the years. From junior footy to NRL grand finals, I was brought up believing — knowing — that when it comes to blokes, tough is everything.
If only I knew then what I know now. By the time we hit midnight tonight, six men will have taken their own lives in Australia and more than 20 will have attempted to. It remains the leading killer of young men in this country, with the heartbreaking Years of Potential Life Lost measure estimating that 80,170 potential years of happy, healthy life were lost in 2018 alone.
While I don’t think this old-fashioned view that men shouldn’t talk about their feelings is solely responsible for these devastating statistics, I do genuinely believe that many thousands of lives could have been saved had we taken a different view of men’s mental health.
Why am I telling you this now? Because Sunday marks the final day of Men’s Health Week 2020. And if it achieves nothing else this year, I want it to be an annual opportunity for men around Australia to perform a critically important mental health check-up.
We visit dentists for our teeth, dermatologists for skin cancer, doctors for our physical health, but when it comes to our mental health, problems are often unacknowledged and ignored — in some cases until it’s too late.
To help me this week is Doctor Addie Wootten, the CEO of not-for-profit meditation program Smiling Mind.
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A leader in the pre-emptive mental health space, and with a particular focus on youth mental health, Smiling Mind works to introduce meditation and mindfulness programs in schools and workplaces around the country.
I asked Dr Wootten to devise a simple mental health check-up everyone, male or female, young or old, can perform at home today.
“Mental health is something that we need to constantly be maintaining. Men are no doubt familiar with the importance of getting a regular health check-up, but less so with regularly assessing the state of their mental health, something that is just as important,” Dr Wootten says.
“Checking in on our mental wellbeing allows us to identify early warning signs of mental health difficulties and prevent the onset of mental illness.
“While not all of us will experience a mental illness in our lifetime, we all have mental health, and therefore need to be proactively checking in on how mentally healthy we’re feeling.”
YOUR MENTAL HEALTH CHECK-UP
1. Are you connected?
“Think about your relationships,” Dr Wootten says.
“Are you feeling connected and supported by those you care about? Social connection and support is essential for good mental health.”
2. How are you sleeping?
“Your sleep quality and duration are important,” Dr Wootten says.
“Are you getting the right amount of sleep you need to function well? For most of us that means seven and nine hours of sleep per night.”
3. What’s your outlook?
“Think abut your mindset or outlook on life,” Dr Wootten says.
“Are you able to take a balanced perspective on things that are happening in your life? Mindset and our thinking patterns have a huge impact on our mental health.”
4. What’s your purpose?
“Are you living your life with a sense of purpose and meaning and are you enjoying the things you’re doing?” asks Dr Wootten.
“A sense of meaning and purpose is a vital ingredient in mental health. This doesn’t have to be from the big things in life – the small things are equally important and it’s what helps us get out of bed every day.”
5. Are you feeling physically healthy?
“Are you feeling physically healthy and well and are you doing the exercise you usually enjoy?” Dr Wootten says.
“Physical exercise is closely related to mental health and it’s often one of the first changes people notice when they’re not feeling great mentally.”
6. Did you answer ‘no’ to any of the above questions?
“Checking in on your own mental health involves stopping, creating a bit of clear space so you can objectively reflect and ask yourself how you’re going across all these areas,” Dr Wootten says.
“If you identify any areas where you’re not going so well it is an opportunity to talk to someone about it – either a close friend or family member, or a professional.”
* Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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