AT RISK: Men are the ones to be concerned about when it comes to mental health and well-being.
AT RISK: Men are the ones to be concerned about when it comes to mental health and well-being. Marjan_Apostolovic

Men must be given support to talk about their troubles

The local Resource Industry Network held its annual safety conference in Mackay recently and although it covered such topics as fatigue, physical safety, liabilities and Queensland legislation around WH&S, it also had sessions on mentally healthy work cultures and suicide prevention.

I'm always interested to know what's happening in the mental health sector and the latest suggestions for improving current practice, so I went along to hear from the speakers about their ideas and experience.

As you might imagine, the resource industry in general has a majority male workforce, although there are increasing numbers of female representation at all levels, and I was keen to know more about what was being done overall.

It was clear from most of the speakers and statistics highlighted that men are the ones to be concerned about when it comes to mental health and well-being. It seems women are better at talking with their close support network about how they are feeling about problems and challenges. Men, on the other hand, find it hard to express their feelings and are more likely to let you know what they think about a situation instead.

Therein lies a large part of the problem... but also a potential solution.

What is happening to our modern men and what stops them from letting someone know they are troubled, and seeking appropriate care or support? To me it appears they don't feel safe speaking about their concerns as it shows their vulnerability and that has come to be seen as a weakness.

The fear of being judged by others holds many (not just men) back from divulging anything too personal and when it comes to disclosing concerns about your mental health, you may also fear losing your job, your income and your security. It's hardly surprising so many keep it to themselves.

All boys are born gentle, tender and connected but are quickly discouraged from openly expressing that through the influence of society, western culture and more traditional parenting styles. Many learn to shut down their innate feelings and adapt their behaviour to suit those around them rather than being true to who they naturally are and feeling OK to express that openly.

We all have men in our lives - friends, sons, partners, fathers, grandfathers, stepfathers - and therefore we all have a role to play in allowing boys and men to show their vulnerability and encourage them to speak up when they need to. A conversation at the right time can be of enormous benefit and sometimes save a life.

It's not about knowing how to help, it's just about listening without judgment and that can make all the difference.

Rowena Hardy is a facilitator, performance coach and partner of Minds Aligned: