Men's Health Connected: The National Response to Suicide - Are Men A Priority?

Posted 12th May 2021 in General

An important event for the sector this week, the Men's Health Connected online forum, commenced Monday, 10 May, focusing on new research and initiatives aiming to improve men's mental health and reduce male suicide.

A summary of discussions and highlights from the event are outlined below. 

Session 1: The National Response to Suicide - Are Men A Priority?

The first session, hosted by former Lifeline CEO Pete Shmigel, took a closer look at whether male suicide prevention has been a priority in the past, and what changes have taken place more recently to ensure it is a priority in our present. 

Panellists included Dr Zac Seidler, clinical psychologist, research fellow and Director of Mental Health Training at Movember, who suggested we need to move away from purely discussing help-seeking because the services are there - but it's not working. Dr Seidler highlighted the importance of creating supportive spaces that men will want to go to for help and build friendships (a huge protective factor for male suicide) and the hope that upskilling the clinicians and other people providing that support will become the next priority.

Darren Black, CEO at OzHelp, advised that one of the risk factors for male suicide is that when men in specific industries who live in rural or remote areas reach out for support, it can be a long and hard time before they get it. 

Christopher Stone, Acting Director, Policy and Government Relations at Suicide Prevention Australia, spoke about the set of principles he is writing with the support of 30 experts in suicide, which he hopes will help shape the future of suicide prevention in Australia.

Dr Bernadette Boss, CSC Interim National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention, highlighted the difficulty men in defence services have in transitioning back into the community. Dr Ross reflected on British psychologist Robin Dunbar's research which points out that men and women build relationships differently. While women can maintain close relationships by talking on the phone, research shows men need to be doing something together to support this relationship, which is why services such as a men's shed are so important.

To wrap up the session, Glen Poole, CEO of the Australian Men's Health Forum, called for a rethink of the way services are delivered, summarising the critical point that when men are getting help but the help isn't doing the job, change is needed.

Session 2: Researching Male Suicide - The Buoy Project

Supporting research in male suicide prevention, Professor Jane Pirkis, University of Melbourne, believes that preventing suicide among men and boys would go further than any other single approach to achieving the Government's goal of working towards zero suicides.

As one of the initiatives under the Million Minds Mental Health Research Mission, The Buoy Project, led by Professor Pirkis, is a collaborative research approach to men's suicide prevention research focusing on the role of masculinity and its impact on male suicide. Existing research into male suicide centres on individual factors that may contribute to suicide deaths, such as drug and alcohol use, and that they are less likely to seek help than females. Through the Buoy Project, researchers explore the impact of five interventions encouraging men to seek help and two interventions exploring the appropriateness of support provided by telephone-based crisis lines for males. 

Professor Pirkis was joined by Professor Tony LaMontagne, School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University; Dr Kylie King, School of Psychological Sciences, Monash University; Dr Stewart Vella, Global Alliance for Mental Health and Sport; and Dr Zac Seidler, Director of Mental Health Training at Movember for a panel discussion. 

This discussion allowed for Men's Health Connected participants to learn more about the seven research areas and highlight what the existing evidence says are the best ways to support males across the lifespan. 

Session 3: Hearing Men's Stories - The Role of Lived Experience in Male Suicide Prevention

One of the key findings of the Prime Minsters' National Suicide Prevention Adviser, Christine Morgan, was that lived experience knowledge and expertise should be prioritised and integrated into the planning and delivery of a whole-of-government suicide prevention action.

Bronwen Edwards, CEO of Roses in the Ocean, outlined the many roles men with lived experience can play in preventing suicide. Tynan Narywonczyk, lived experience speaker from Roses in the Ocean, advised that getting his story off his chest has helped him feel more at peace –and he has been able to help shape the way suicide prevention programs are developed.

Dr Neil Hall of Western Sydney University presented recent research findings exploring men's experiences with lived experience of suicide. The study used storytelling as a research technique and looked at the stories of 12 men with lived experience of suicide. Dr Hall detailed that some of the critical factors associated with suicidal ideation were: childhood trauma, loss of employment, relationship breakdown and pending legal issues. However, it is often not just one of these determinants but the accumulation of distress that impacts a person's life as a pathway to suicide.

Read the research paper here.

Graeme Holdsworth shared his battle with suicide and reflected on his journey as a lived experience advocate in the suicide prevention sector.

Session 4: Blokes helping blokes - is involving more men the solution to male suicide?

The final session for day one of the Men's Health Connected online forum explored how community-based peer support initiatives can aid men's mental health and suicide prevention. The panel included four key guests: Jon Morgan from the Marcus Mission, Ross Ariola from Parents Beyond Breakup, Steve Jackson from MATES in Construction, and Peter Seligman from The Banksia Project. The panel discussed how making a support service that focuses on mateship can strengthen men's participation and value from the community-based service.

The discussion also centred around the need to move away from focusing on vulnerabilities and that men don't talk - because men do talk, but perhaps in non-clinical ways as expected from other services. The panel also recognised that different types of social support are required because men interact differently to women.