The word “Mate” is often squeezed into most conversations by Aussie males today. It’s our national bloke greeting, offered with a smile and an outstretched paw at pubs, bbq’s and man gatherings all over Oz. Most people agree mateship is at the core of what it means to be Australian. The term mate is believed to have originated on The First Fleet. Convicts were forbidden from using their names, so they began calling each other mate (from “shipmate”). And in true, smart-arse Aussie style, they also started calling the officers mate; as if to say – you’re no better than me.
Fast forward two hundred and thirty-odd years and mateship is at the core of how we see ourselves as a nation. Most men like to think of themselves as being “a good mate” to their friends, but what does that actually mean in this day and age?
There are some obvious traits of being a good mate; never bailing on a shout, helping your mates move house and, of course, using a NON-permanent marker to draw profanity on a mate’s forehead when he passes out after a big night drinking.
Pretty simple, really.
But then there’s the biggest trait that most males find hard to do then lifting a fridge up a flight of stairs. The number one thing you’re meant to be able to offer as a mate is simply your emotional support. Aussie men excel at the day to day of mateship but often aren’t there to lend a hand when a friend is doing it tough emotionally because they don’t know their mate needs help. In typical male fashion, most men like talking about their feelings or admitting that they are suffering in any way. So how do can you tell if a mate needs help?
It’s a fact of life that mental health is directly linked to the quality of life. When we feel content or happy, our outlook improves. We tend to be more motivated, more resilient, and better able to overcome life’s challenges. Importantly, we’re less likely to do things that may cause harm to ourselves or our relationships.
The opposite is often true when we’re stressed, worried or feeling down. We may struggle to do things we would otherwise enjoy and we may also be more prone to anger, frustration or anxiety when dealing with difficulties. We may even engage in damaging or destructive behaviour like substance or alcohol abuse.
As a mate, it is important to recognise if any of these changes occur and be here to lend a hand when a friend is doing it tough emotionally.
Talking about it
The topic of mental illness has been difficult to openly discuss over the years and many people view mental health with a negative stigma. Indeed, one of the best things that anyone can do when faced with stress or worry is to talk it out with someone. Opening up about your mental illness will allow you to express how you truly feel and it gives others a chance to help you by guiding you through the difficult times.
The mere act of talking about a worry or concern can help change someone’s outlook and can help them cope with their difficulties. It may provide a better (or at least different) perspective, or it may even give someone the clarity of mind and confidence to take action to overcome their concerns.
For one thing, talking it out could help prevent a smaller issue from becoming a larger one that actually starts to affect quality of life. For example, anxiety about money or specific social situations could, if not talked about and left unaddressed for too long, lead to generalised anxiety about spending, or avoidant social anxiety behaviour.
Having said that, it may not actually be you who would benefit from talking it out…
Your mate may be the one who needs to talk it out
For years, our image of masculinity has been defined by physical toughness, self-reliance and emotional stoicism – when you have a problem, you just “deal with it”. But this tendency to bottle everything up has contributed to a rise in men’s mental health issues; and an alarming suicide rate that sees five men take their lives every day in Australia. So many lives tragically cut short because we’ve been taught that “real men” don’t ask for help.
That’s why it’s important for you to do the reaching out if you’re concerned about how a mate is travelling.
Think of someone who may have been struggling lately and you haven’t heard from in a while. Helping out here doesn’t mean immediately making it about deep emotions or feelings. Instead, what you can do is check-in, catch up, ask how they’re going, and (if necessary) check back in at another time.
A great example is the Queensland-based #CheckYourMates campaign. This initiative is part of a wider suicide prevention project among veterans and ex-Defence members in Townsville, the town with Australia’s highest concentration of current and ex-Defence members.
#CheckYourMates encourages people to check in with a buddy, especially if it’s someone you haven’t seen for a while. The idea is to catch up in person — whether it’s fishing, going to the footy, playing a round of golf or grabbing a feed — and to see how they’re going. The intention is to listen without judging and to provide support and help if they’re struggling.
#CheckYourMates began as a suicide prevention campaign among members of the ex-Defence community. It has been very successful on social media, so much so that it’s gone well beyond Townsville. One reason for that is the fact that the principle can be effective for anyone.
Many other support groups are also taking charge to help improve men’s mental health across Australia and is being led by some of the most blokey industries. Reacting to the alarming statistic that construction workers are six times more likely to suicide than to die from an on-site accident, Mates in Construction is busy knocking down emotional walls on building sites across Australia to improve workers’ mental health.
Another job where physical danger overshadows potential mental health risks is the armed forces. Mates 4 Mates (M4M) is a national charity that assists soldiers who’ve been wounded or become ill as a result of their service. The most common thing M4M helps veterans with is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
One way M4M helps treat PTSD is through adventure challenges, such as sailing. Known as diversional therapy, these challenges break down barriers and help veterans connect with each other. Obviously just hoisting the mainsail doesn’t cure PTSD, but the challenges play an important role in building confidence, trust and improving the mental well-being of veterans.
For most people a rough day at the office means a paper-jam in the printer; for soldiers, it can mean dealing with an improvised explosive device. Understandably, they often find it hard to relate to “civvies”. But veterans say they feel safe at M4M because most staff have had military experience. This speaks directly to the military bond of brotherhood, or to use a more Australian term – mateship.
It was the actions of the Diggers in WWI that cemented mateship as a defining Australian characteristic. The bond these men formed during battle is often said to be the only thing that got them through. In the face of unimaginable suffering, these brave blokes found a way to endure through the shared strength of the man next to them in the trench.
This same bond – mateship – is now helping Australia fight a national mental health crisis. The enemy might not be as easy to see, but this battle claims the lives of over two-thousand Australian men every year, so if you think you have a mate who might need support, make sure you reach out and offer yours.
Reach out to a mate this week
Along with the body of research that suggests mental health is closely linked to physical health, so too is there is growing evidence that social connection is vital to our mental health. Quite simply, being connected and knowing that somebody’s got your back can make a huge difference to our outlook.
What is mateship if we’re not there for our mates when they need us? Reaching out to a mate can be as simple as letting someone know you’re there for them — and that is as good a reason as any to check in with a mate to see how they’re going this International Day Of Friendship.