Today, Triple M Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane is going quiet so men can talk.

There are no radio shows, no ads and no traffic reports.

The initiative is designed to draw attention to the fact men often find it difficult, or are discouraged, from talking about their feelings.

Triple M is using the space where they'd normally talk to instead encourage men and women to talk to their mates, family or a colleague about mental health.

The statistics behind the rate of men's suicide in Australia are stark, with Beyond Blue telling us that this year alone 65,000 people will attempt suicide in Australia. Eight will die every day and six will be men.

I've run a men's social group now for over 15 years, and one thing I've noticed is that men are always "fine or good".

They aren't really, it's just a Pavlovian response when someone asks, "How are you?"

We can freely talk about sports, sex, cars, even our relationships, but one thing we find it hard to talk about is us. So I should start the conversation: A while ago I cried for three days straight. I have no idea why.

I'm not even sure what triggered it. I just sat in my car and broke down for a good 5-10 minutes.

I quickly drove home, climbed into bed and as soon as I jumped under the doona I started crying again. I don't even know what I was crying about, but I do remember the feelings of failure, loneliness, hopelessness and of being inadequate.

I remember laying there paralysed by fear. What should I do? Who can I ring? Who would understand? I didn't want to be a burden or appear weak. I said a silent prayer "I wish someone would ring". The gods must have been listening that day, a few hours later my phone beeped with a message. "I just got some great news at work today! How are you?"

It was the start of a conversation that I really needed to have.

Watching Gus Worland's Man Up on the ABC last year cut close to the bone and made me tear up again. It just reinforced the fact that men (me included) aren't very good at communicating to our friends, family and partners if we are struggling.

Last year I attended a Man Up event hosted by Worland and Man whisperer Tom Harkin. One of the exercises was admitting the last time we cried. I was really surprised at how many men admitted to crying in the last 3-6 months, but nobody knew about it.

In Man Up, Worland started a campaign for men to speak up about their feelings, to share what is really on their mind and that it's actually brave to cry.

The idea for the Man Up series came from a Black Dog Institute study that investigated the characteristics associated with depression and suicidal thoughts in Australian men.

This study highlighted the issue of stoicism and the struggles men have with asking for help.

It also identified the different characteristics associated with male depression - here are some in the study respondent's own words.

AGGRESSION, FRUSTRATION AND EASILY UPSET

"I was snapping at people quicker, someone will cut you off … and you get angry and you want to jump out of the car and … "

CHANGES TO ACTIVITY LEVELS

"I just lost interest in things that I previously enjoyed, I started spending less time with my friends, and I started arguing more with my loved ones."

RISK TAKING

"He became ambivalent about living."

SUBSTANCE ABUSE

"He was injecting speed, drinking from 8 o'clock in the morning, drinking all day and everyday."

STRONGER COMMITMENT TO FAMILY

"It was like a preparation for departure. He would always tell me how much he loved me and how important I am to him. He even took the time to try and reconnect with his mother which was unusual."

NEGATIVE LANGUAGE

"It's all negative. The things I think of are all negative or I see everything through a negative filter."

SHUTTING THEMSELVES AWAY AND SPENDING LESS TIME SOCIALISING

"When it got too much, he'd just go bush, take his tent and isolate himself."

CHANGES IN SLEEP PATTERNS

"I just didn't want to get out of bed … I just wanted to sit in bed and sulk."

NOT EATING WELL OR TAKING CARE OF THEMSELVES

"I just don't have the energy to cook or eat."

OPERATING ON AUTOPILOT

"Completing the bare minimum for myself, my children, my family. There is no joy in my day to day."

 

Craig Martin, director of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention at the Movember Foundation, says if you want to chat with a man in your life who you may be worried about, the most important thing is to listen.

"You can't fix someone else's problems, but you can be there for them," he says. "Sometimes listening is the most helpful thing you can do. You won't make things worse by asking how he's doing.

"Good conversations can happen anywhere, but there are a few places where guys might feel more comfortable talking. Get out and about: Heading back to nature is good for all of us. "Also shoulder to shoulder, whether it's a shared hobby or just watching TV, some guys find it easier to talk while they're doing something. Instead of face-to-face and online, sometimes it's easier to start an open conversation via text or chat instead of in person."

Craig also has tips on how to ask a guy how he is going. "Rather than just asking how are you, try reframing it by saying, 'I noticed you're a bit down and stressed at the moment. Is there anything wrong?'"

Don't be put off if he tries to avoid your questions or brush them off. If you still think something's up, you might want to try a few different ways to get him talking. How he's feeling might be because of specific things happening in his life, like changes at work, a breakup, or fatherhood. It can help to give a little, share what's going on in your own life.

He may not be ready to talk. In this case, make sure he knows you're there for him and that you care. It can also help to let him know that it's OK not to be OK.

If you know a male in your life who is exhibiting some of the above symptoms, maybe he is just waiting for someone to ask, "How are you … really?"

If this article has brought up any issues for your or someone you know, get in contact with Lifeline 24 hours a day on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636.

Phil Brandel is a freelance writer and radio presenter.


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