The local Resource Industry Network held their annual Safety Conference in Mackay recently and although it covered such topics as fatigue, physical safety, liabilities and Qld 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 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 given that men are the ones to be concerned about when it comes to mental health and wellbeing. It seems that 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 and therefore also a potential solution.
What is happening to our modern men and what stops them from letting someone know they are troubled and not seeking appropriate care or support? To me it appears to be that they don’t feel safe to speak up 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 that you may be worried about your mental health, you may also fear losing your job, your income and your security. So it’s hardly surprising that 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, particularly in certain communities. So in order to feel safe and fit in as a ‘typical’ man, 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 others 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. It’s commonly acknowledged that 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.
By Rowena Hardy