e live by avoiding death. But, for reasons which have confounded thoughtful men and women since time immemorial, a small though significant number of people have managed to escape from the obsession of living and by their own volition have deliberately embraced death. How to explain why, among the only species capable of pondering its own demise, whose desperate attempts to forestall mortality have spawned both armies and branches of medicine in a continuous search for the Fountain of Youth, there are those who, by their own hand, would choose death over life? Our contradictory reactions to the act speak to the conflicted hold it has on our imaginations: revulsion mixed with fascination, scorn leavened with pity. It’s a cardinal sin – but change the packaging a little, and suicide assumes the guise of heroism or passion, the stuff of great literature and fine art. Beyond the philosophical paradox are the bewilderingly complex dynamics of the act itself. While a universal phenomenon, the incidence of suicide varies so immensely across different population groups – among nations and cultures, ages and gender, race and religion – that any overarching theory about its root cause is rendered useless. Then there is the most disheartening aspect of the riddle. The National Institute of Mental Health says that 90 per cent of all suicide “completers” display some form of diagnosable mental disorder. But if so, why have advances in the treatment of mental illness had so little effect? In the past 40 years, whole new generations of antidepressant drugs have been developed; crisis hotline centres have been established in most every city; and yet today the nation’s suicide rate is on the rise. Statistics show that six Australians take their own life every single day. Our society is facing a suicide epidemic and it’s not enough to just talk anymore. When suicide is the leading cause of death among young people, of which four out of five are men, something more needs to be done. That’s where Ehon Chan steps in. After months of research, Ehon has put together a Theory of Change and designed the first campaign in Australia designed to shift the stereotype of “real men”. ‘Soften the f--k up!’ Say it loud enough and you’re sure to have heads turning. Purposefully contradicting the usual backyard slang, it’s this phrase that Ehon is bringing to the forefront when tackling the issue of men’s mental health and suicide prevention. The initiative, which last month launched its second campaign: Better If You’re Around, launched back in 2011 and has since been trying to reconstruct the concept of masculinity and wage war on our devastating suicide rate. As founder of the STFU: Better If You’re
Around campaign, Ehon believes this is an important next step in tackling this painful societal issue. “We need to reconsider or rethink what being a mate and being a man in Australia really means,” he tells reporters. “We’ve built a culture that being a man is about being tough and being bulletproof [but] we know this bulletproof image is driving our mates to suicide.” Suicide is the single biggest killer of men aged 15-44, with about 1800 taking their lives each year. About a quarter of those were young men aged 15-24, and it’s that age group that’s being targeted in this new campaign. The STFU video runs for one minute and 43 seconds. Split into two screens, one half of the clip shows a young man sitting in a dark
a typical Aussie bloke – a popular, highachieving young man who was both good in academia and sports – who shared his silent struggle with mental illness since he was in high school. Ehon says the young man didn’t get a diagnosis for at least four years because he never would have thought that a man could get a mental illness. “It wasn’t until he was hospitalised while in university and given the diagnosis by the doctor [that] he realised, regardless of what you have in your life, when something isn’t right with your body, something just isn’t right.” Ever since that meeting, it has haunted Ehon that suicide remains the leading cause of death amongst young people. “There is still a lack of programs or mental health brand that young men feel comfortable engaging with – and there is also a lack of involvement of young men in the mental health conversation,” says Ehon. “When you interrupt a person’s suicide process, you can actually change their life and save their life. Sometimes help is just starting that conversation and interrupting that suicidal process. A lot of times it’s about asking people whether they’re considering suicide.” Though STFU only launched last year, Ehon and his team knew they had to keep moving so their message did not grow stale. One of the key steps in that process was to actively engage people while they were still active and interested in the program. “What you’re doing right now is not as important as what you’re doing in the future,” Ehon adds. “We wanted to look at exactly what ‘help’ and ‘getting help’ mean. Traditionally, for men, ‘getting help’ has been about losing control and being weak. We wanted to change that conversation and talk about help in a more positive way. This new campaign is around what that new conversation will look like.”
We’ve built a culture that being a man is about being tough and being bulletproof [but] we know this bulletproof image is driving our mates to suicide. room looking puzzled. The other half follows numerous day-to-day events in a ‘what if?’type scenario. It’s worth watching it through until the end. Lifeline Communications Director Chris Wagner says videos like these can help people find a way beyond what they’re feeling and help them begin to live again. “One positive about this is that it provides a message to people who are thinking about suicide that there’s so much they can look forward to,” he tells reporters. “This video can help people recognise that there is life beyond the feelings they’re experiencing at this point in time.” Prime Minister Julia Gillard spoke on the topic while taking part in last month’s Google+ hangout – an experiment in online democracy. “It’s in part about government but it’s about all of us and about society and how we respond to the needs of each other,” she says. “One of the things we have to do, and we have been keen to resource, is programs that can help men speak to men rather than white coated health professionals.” Better If You’re Around is built around the powerful message of showing people all the things they’ll miss out on if they take their own lives. Ehon says: “For a young person to lose their life due to a car accident or disease, it’s the failure of the medicine or the system, or pure carelessness or stupidity, but for a young person to die of suicide, it’s a failure of humanity.” Two years ago, Ehon sat down with
If you or someone you know may be at risk of suicide, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14, beyondblue 1300 22 46 36, or Salvo Care Line 1300 36 36 22. STFU: Better If You’re Around founder Ehon Chan.
The August Issue of Get It Magazine Gold Coast.