oh boy, we need a chat

By Liam Stretch

Trigger warning. This article discusses confronting themes which may include sexual harassment, mental health, and suicide.

This time last year, our newsfeeds were flooded with the hashtags #ChallengeAccepted #24hours in an attempt to make us take action on mental health. I saw everything from a few push-ups through to drinking a raw egg, a shot of spirits, a spoon of sugar, and a beer scull. 

Tagged users were told they had 24 hours to complete the challenge, or they would have to donate $200 to men’s mental health. Others encouraged men to merely copy and paste a statement telling them to build each other up rather than tearing them down. 

Don’t even get me started on why drinking to combat poor mental health is an issue. I appreciate the sentiment of some of the Facebook movement, but I have serious doubts about its effectiveness.  

I already had my own feelings about these when they were posted in 2020 and was fully prepared for them to spring back up this year. But, to my surprise, there was nothing but tumbleweeds in the digital desert. 

Though it was probably a big initial step for some men, it quickly became more of a fad than an impactful action – which actually didn’t result in anyone talking about their feelings. 

I went to an all-boys school, and we definitely never talked about mental health, nor were we taught about it. The counsellor was an embarrassment to go chat to. I remember once having to confide in the counsellor about some bouts of anxiety I was experiencing, and I quickly had to joke with my friends in order to cover up that I might not be feeling too hot. 

This is a situation primarily developed because of the old New Zealand male identity of ‘she’ll be right’. I recall the many times I was in a scenario with my friends and their fathers or another older male, and they said this classic zinger: “have a cup of concrete and harden the fuck up”. I often didn’t know how to respond to this as it was not a statement my father would ever say, as he is not a man who subscribes to that way of thinking. Even though this was usually in response to a scraped knee or not getting to play with the toy I wanted, it set a precedent for any show of emotion being a step a ‘man’ shouldn’t take. I have seen many of my peers deeply impacted by this standard of expression. 

This continued for many through their teens, and till now, in adulthood.  

Picture this; you’ve been at a small drinks with ‘the boys’, you’ve finished your box and are onto the heavy stuff. Suddenly, one of your friends starts to talk about their feelings, and it turns out they have a tonne of shit going on. You wake up the following morning, a little worse for wear, and can barely recall the conversations you had the previous evening. You know your mate told you some intense stuff, but you can’t remember – the conversation is never readdressed, until maybe when you get drunk again. 

This is a scenario I’ve witnessed, been part of, and had to work through countless times. 

It angered me for a wee while until I contextualised it. I realised how the very way young Kiwi men grow up shapes the way they express themselves. 

We know how quickly things can get lost in the abyss of social media, and this is no different – a couple of posts about the issue is not necessarily building a conversation. I implore you to reach out to your mates and think more in-depth about what mental health means – it can be as simple as the way you interact with peers. Do not bully your friend for going bald, do not pick on the gay kid; build your friend up who has boring work stories, is going through a breakup, or seems quiet. 

I found in my own personal experience that if you really want to help a male friend, you have to make yourself vulnerable before them. No, there is nothing gay about this; as a gay man, I can assure you so. By showing that you’re capable of breaking down your own barriers means they are capable of breaking down theirs. Do not judge whatever they tell you; New Zealand males are conditioned to judge. It’s a defence mechanism. I was nearly 20 before I let my guard down and booked in with a therapist. This helped me not only to combat my own demons but be in a position where I was equipped to talk to other people about their issues and maybe direct them towards help.   

So, I guess what I’m saying in this ramble is talk. No matter who that is, talk. I bottled up some emotions for years, only to have them lifted from my shoulders after one simple conversation, a conversation that I haven’t halted.  

 I’ve collated some resources for you below; there are some folks in Aotearoa doing some really important work. 

 

If you’re feeling vulnerable at present, or know someone who is, we are lucky to have many people working really hard in Aotearoa and really good services available: 

– 1737.org.nz – a free text and call service, offering support if you’re in need of a chat. 

– mentalhealth.org.nz – Mental Health Foundation. This website has direct contact lines for regional crisis centres and other specialised support services. 

– clearhead.org.nz – an app and website that develops personalised mental health support 

– alcoholdrughelp.org.nz – services to support those – or those you know – who are struggling with problems related to alcohol and drugs. 

– changingminds.org.nz – a not for profit run by those who have personal experience with recovery from mental health. 

– healthnavigator.org.nz/healthy-living/m/mens-health/ – specific tips and conversations about men’s health issues. 

– nz.movember.com – The official Movember website. It has a plethora of resources and accounts, and information on how to get involved.