Tass Mousaferiadis is a Program Leader at beyondblue, heading up the national Men’s and LGBTI programs at beyondblue. Tass began his talk by outlining beyondblue’s aims: to improve the mental health of all Australians, with a specific focus on depression, anxiety, and suicide prevention. Specifically, beyondblue aims to increase awareness of depression and anxiety; reduce stigma and discrimination; improve help-seeking; reduce the impact, disability and mortality associated with depression and anxiety; and facilitate learning, collaboration, innovation, and research.
Tass provided some contextual information about the picture of depression worldwide and in Australia. According to the World Health Organisation, by 2020, depression will be the world’s second largest health problem. One million people in Australia live with depression, and two million live with anxiety. Depression costs Australian employers approximately $11 billion per year, as a result of sickness, absence and presenteeism.
Focusing specifically on men, 1 in 8 men experience depression, and 1 in 5 experience anxiety. Tass highlighted evidence demonstrating that the highest levels of depression occur in men at the most productive points in their lives – between the ages of 35 and 55 years old. This is also when most suicides tend to occur. However, Tass also highlighted that relative to women, men have lower levels of awareness, and high levels of stigma around depression and anxiety. Of men experiencing a mental health problem, only 36% seek professional help.
Following on from this point, Tass explored some of the barriers men may experience when it comes to seeking help with their mental health. One barrier related to personal and societal perceptions of masculinity: what does it mean to be masculine? Tass argued that for some people, being masculine could be being seen as being “beyond assertive”: being self-contained and self-reliant, with seeking help potentially being seen as a sign of weakness.
Another significant barrier to men’s help-seeking related to stigma and self-stigma. Tass highlighted self-stigma as a particularly important barrier: the view that men have about themselves, with Tass suggesting that men have “anxiety around what might occur, rather than what is actually occurring”. He argued that society shouldn’t underestimate the power that stigma and self-stigma has on help-seeking behaviour. beyondblue is developing a project to explore this, called STRIDE (Stigma Reduction Interventions: Digital Environments). beyondblue has invited proposals about how to reduce stigma in men at a population level, targeting specific communities, using digital technology. They are currently in the process of working through these applications and will fund a number of projects which will allow development, testing, trialling, and evaluation of interventions that use digital platforms to reduce stigma.
A further barrier to men’s help-seeking involved moving beyond awareness to taking action. Tass argued that for some men, having an awareness of depression and anxiety may not necessarily translate to help-seeking behaviour, stating that there is a “lag between the societal and personal impact”. beyondblue’s research suggests that a good way of engaging with men around depression and anxiety does not just involve telling men they may have a mental health problem, but instead, stimulating discussion around symptoms (e.g., not sleeping well, feeling irritable). Tass argued that “having conversations around symptoms becomes a positive point of action”.
Help-seeking in men can also be hindered when it seems to violate men’s sense of self-control. Tass argued that the way men interact with support services is important, suggesting that if men do not have adequate control over when and where to access services, they are less likely to seek help (e.g. if services are not available during work hours men may avoid taking time of work to access mental or physical health services.)
Tass concluded by highlighting a number of beyondblue’s media campaigns (see links below).
beyondblue man therapy campaign: http://www.beyondblue.org.au/about-us/programs/mens-program/program-activities/man-therapy
beyondblue website: http://www.beyondblue.org.au/
beyondblue – the STRIDE project: http://www.beyondblue.org.au/about-us/programs/mens-program/program-activities/reducing-stigma-in-men
beyondblue – The SHED Online initiative: http://www.beyondblue.org.au/about-us/programs/mens-program/program-activities/the-shed-online