Men urged to take charge of their mental health

Men urged to take charge of their mental health
By Hannah Dixon on 15 June 2017 Studies suggest only 35 per cent of men seek help for mental health issues.

During Men’s Health Week (June 12-18), OzHelp Foundation is hoping for this to change. 

The foundation provides workplace-based support and education for physical, mental health and suicide prevention.

It was founded after the suicide of a young Canberra man, David O’Bryan, in 2001. It started as an initiative with local organisations to provide support services in construction industries. It has since expanded to providing support services and training to both men and women in workplaces including employee health and wellbeing programs.

“OzHelp morphed from an organisation where we were literally just saying g’day to someone on construction sites while they were hammering nails,” said CEO Tony Holland said.

However there is still a focus on male-dominated industries where they engage hard-to-reach men.

“Of all suicides in Australia 75 per cent are men and 83 per cent are working-age men. So working men are an at-risk category,” Holland explained.

He also cites a “telling” statement from Lifeline that suicides in Australia are “more than double the national road toll". 

Years of potential life lost – a measure of premature mortality – sits at 97,000 years for all suicides in Australia, Holland said.

“It should be noted that suicide is preventable,” he adds.

The massive toll of mental health issues and suicides should be cause for concern.  

It’s OK to talk

Much of OzHelp’s work is done through informal talks such as the tradie tune-ups project which involves brief health checks in a purpose-built van that visits workplaces. 

It’s a method that can make a difference. Holland said the program found 43 per cent of people talked to saw a doctor within three months.

“Every workplace has their own challenges,” Holland said.

“Some have a macho culture and that comes with its own sets of problems but it’s a case by case thing.

“One of the issues is men have very poor rates of help-seeking behaviours. The other problem is that men have much lower rates of health literacy.

“Men are harder to reach, harder to engage and harder to empower. So that’s why the focus is there.

“However, in saying all this, we don’t always talk about suicide, otherwise we wouldn’t get through to anyone. We are about getting people to open up before it gets to that stage.”

Holland said OzHelp aimed to spark discussions about health generally and to get workers to take charge of their health. These discussions are part of a simple process of prevention and risk management. 

“If you want to prevent people falling off a roof, you should wear a harness to prevent people falling off a roof in the first place. It’s really about taking old health and safety methods to prevent these things before they even occur.”

However, he stressed he is not trying to blame workplaces.

“If work is stressful it may be a factor but we can’t separate work from other factors. A fight at home, stress, or even a neighbour playing loud music at 3am can all weigh on people,” he said. 

“It all plays a part but the workplace is where we gather people and, as a result, where we have the best chance of engaging people.”

Expanding services

OzHelp has recently been selected by the federal government to deliver workplace suicide prevention and mental health programs under the National Suicide Prevention Leadership and Support Program – a move which Holland is excited by.

“The Turnbull government will provide a $47 million boost to front-line services for suicide prevention and directly address a growing community need,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said when announcing the decision.

Holland said one challenge was “how do we get to all these towns out there?”

This led to the company adapting its program to offer online tuneups. The program expands the audience to all workplaces, industries, locations and genders.

“We are moving our capabilities from serving 30,000 people to 50,000 or 80,000 or 100,000. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out how many people that will reach,” Holland said.

“What I always tell people is that with this program we have uncapped opportunity. So therefore the lifesaving work we do can be expanded exponentially. We can give the same quality service to any town with an internet connection.”

He adds that the program also ensures support through follow up phone calls or emails and the addition of 20 evidence-based organisational questions so employers can understand cultural issues that may be affecting their workers. 

A research and evaluation of the project is currently being led by the University of Wollongong Medical school.

“We’re not about trying to fix the world’s problems; we’re about getting people to start the journey. Just knowing risks makes a difference,” he said.

“Its about empowering people to take steps.”
More information about OzHelp can be accessed online or calling 1300 OZHELP.


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