Mental health researcher, Dr Zac Seidler, dedicates work to reducing male suicide

Posted 26th June 2020 in Research

Dr Zac Seidler is a Clinical Psychologist, the Director of Mental Health Training at Movember and a Research Fellow with Orygen at The University of Melbourne. Zac has devoted years to the goal of reducing the staggering rate of male suicide, treating and researching men’s mental health with over 25 peer-reviewed articles published.

As part of Life in Mind’s spotlight on men’s mental health and suicide prevention, the team spoke to Zac about his research and ongoing work in male suicide prevention. 

Can you please provide a brief overview of your research and what your core focus areas are?

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to devote the past several years to really popping the hood and looking inside the complex world of men’s mental health. Masculinity has always been really interesting to me, where it comes from and how it impacts on our behaviour and relationships. This led me down the path of trying to understand the age old question “why don’t men seek help for their mental health?” at the start of my PhD. What became increasingly obvious however, was that the more we viewed men’s mental health through the lens of what men can’t do, the more complicit we become in perpetuating the problem. This led to a pretty huge pivot in my approach, focussing more on a strengths-based approach, asking men what their experiences in mental health services were like, what they liked or disliked and what would need to change. This seemed like a simple step because what we were doing previously wasn’t working, made clear by the high and rising male suicide rates, with six men a day taking their own lives in this country. Nonetheless, this approach was a huge surprise to many of the guys who had never been asked to reflect and think on how the system could adapt to better suit their needs. The rest is history really, once I’d opened up that door there was no going back, and I’ve spent every day since doing my best to start to tailor the mental health system to work for men, rather than putting the onus on guys to adapt to a system that was not built with them in mind. The long-term aim is that mental health treatment becomes a place where men want to go, where they know they will be understood, respected and responded to with a treatment that works for them. 

Why is it so important that male suicide prevention be a national priority?

With men making up three quarters of all suicides in Australia despite the fact that more men than ever before are seeking help for their mental health, suggests that we are missing the mark. We need a within-men approach to tackle this issue that is, looking at specific groups of men and how to intervene, rather than seeing them as one homogenous group. Indigenous men, guys who work in male-dominated occupations (e.g. construction), sexual minority and new dads are just a few groups we know are at heightened risk when it comes suicide, so we need to do better at hearing and responding to their distress before it reaches crisis. The future looks bright, as Australian masculinity evolves and becomes more flexible over time and stigma around mental health is being challenged on all fronts, but the fact that we lose over 2,000 guys to suicide each years tells us we have a long way to go. 

How do current services that support men’s mental health tie in with masculinity and what can be done to improve these services?

To date, we are still very thin on the ground when it comes to providing services that are male-focussed, but that is changing. From extending opening hours so that working men can access mental health treatment before and after work, to considering cost and marketing of services to appeal to guys, there are plenty of little things that go a long way. But importantly, once the men access care, we need to make sure we can keep them there. That’s where leveraging each male client’s unique masculinity and taking a strength-based approach to their mental health care is essential. We need to start to play into men’s strengths rather than assume or stereotype how men respond. Our research shows that providing orientation and education around what mental health treatment is, offering action-oriented, practical solutions and adapting communication for each male client is key. What’s become clear is that continuing to put the onus on men to shift to fit our system will not work, and rather it’s about time we create services made to fit the men they serve. 

Can you tell us more about Men in Mind (the world’s first training program for mental health clinicians, to help them better understand and respond to men’s distress)?  

Men in Mind is a world first online mental health practitioner training program funded by Movember providing a resource to upskill those working with male clients on the ground to learn ways to understand and respond to men’s distress and suicidality. The content in this interactive, module-based training stems from several years of research speaking with men and clinicians about their experiences. With the first research pilot of the program coming up in the next few months, we want to make sure that clinicians gain the knowledge and skills to be able to better engage the men they work with, to be able to connect with them where they’re at and get the most out of their treatment. We know how hard it is for many guys to seek help and the hurdles they have to jump through, so we want to make sure that when they get through the door, no matter what their background, we make it worthwhile. 

Read more about Dr Zac Seidler, including his notable research via the Life in Mind research directory