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Breaking down stereotypes to create men’s mental health change

24 October, 2019
Men helping each other

What does it mean to fit the stereotype of a typical Aussie bloke? Men are constantly exposed to social pressures how they ‘should’ act and what is defined as masculine through the mainstream media and the generations that came before them. They strive to be seen as tough, stoic and fearless; denying vulnerability or so-called weaker emotions. But is this working for them? Women with mental health issues are around 50% more likely to access services than men, which is likely due to the predisposition of men to bottle things up. We see men committing suicide at much higher rates than women, even though they don’t experience mental illness at greater levels.

You might be thinking that you don’t think like that. That your partner or son or brother doesn’t think like that. But two-thirds of Australian men agree that they have been told how to behave as traditional ‘real men’ since childhood. Unfortunately, this is the majority, but that doesn’t mean that things have to stay this way.

What are we doing about it?

Right here in Australia, a growing number of organisations and identities are striving to address these stereotypes and define a new version of masculinity. Dr James Antoniadis talks about how many men turn to anger as an ‘acceptable’ coping emotion, as opposed to exploring its underlying cause. Anger can stem from more complex or unresolved emotions such as sadness, anxiety or grief. He also shares concerns that men are less likely to approach their friends about the problems causing their despair. Dr Antoniadis encourages other GPs to delve deeper when men present to them with ambiguous symptoms, or inadequate words to express what might be going on below the surface.

The Men’s Shed network encourages men to open up to each other in a non-confrontational environment. Shoulder-to-shoulder communication is a small concept but it’s a communication style many men prefer when talking about serious matters. At Men’s Shed, the guys are busy working on meaningful projects alongside one another, and conversation flows while they form valuable social networks. The Sheds are so important in improving health and wellness in the community that they operate through Australian Government funding.

There are also a number of non-profit groups including The Men’s Project who are directly challenging traditional gender norms and stereotypes about what it means to be a man. The Men’s Project have found through research that men aged 18-30 who comply with traditional ‘real man’ stereotypes are more likely to have thought about suicide in the preceding two weeks. Among the work of the organisation, is their ethos to reach boys and men in a range of settings including work, school and sports clubs. They do this through positive male and female role models, who display the behaviours needed to create change within communities.

Leading change – the ‘celebrity effect’

There has been a rise in the number of admired celebrities and athletes coming forward to share their lived experiences of poor mental health. This includes men with the calibre and influence of actors Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. If these internationally respected men can be vulnerable and go public with their stories, it sets the example that ‘everyday heroes’ can too.

Closer to home, Australian personalities are following suit. AFL superstar Josh Kennedy is an ambassador for The Men’s Project. He is also teaching his own son about healthy gender behaviours and that it’s okay to cry.  Osher Gunsberg of Channel 10 fame is known for publicly speaking about his personal battles with anxiety and OCD. He is now a board member of mental health charity, SANE Australia. Check out other famous men who are raising their voices for mental health awareness.

While it’s hard to directly measure the effect of these personal stories, people with influence sharing on this level can go a long way towards breaking the stigma around mental health. Being a ‘real man’ isn’t synonymous with staying quiet about internal pain or turmoil. You can be at the top of your game, and still have struggles.

If these stories, and other initiatives aimed at men, encourage others to come forward and seek treatment, we hope to see fewer people out there dealing with poor mental health alone. 

Where to get help?

If you’re looking to make a change to your mental health and wellbeing, call us on 02 9685 7567 or email to see if you qualify for one of our mental health Better Living programs. These programs are free for members with an appropriate level of Hospital or package cover.

If you or someone you know is in need of urgent help, go straight to your GP or hospital emergency department, or contact a crisis centre below:

Beyond Blue: Call 1300 22 4636, 24-hours/7 days a week.

Lifeline: Call 13 11 14 for 24-hour crisis counselling, support groups and suicide prevention services.



All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified Health Care Professional.

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