Sporting heroes across the globe have the reputation of being masculine, tough and invincible.
But there is a tide of change slowly sweeping in, where it is acceptable for these role models to admit vulnerability when it comes to mental health issues. Here in Australia we have former AFL player Simon Hogan from Geelong Football Club, and current Sydney Swans player Lance Franklin who have shared their difficulties with the world.
In the UK, national rugby player for Ireland, Luke Ambler, is leading a growing international movement to champion the issue of men’s mental health.
Ambler’s interest in changing the stereotype of men being strong silent types was born out of tragedy in April this year, when his much-loved 23-year-old brother-in-law Andy, committed suicide.
‘He was at our house on Saturday having a laugh and a joke, he played football as usual on Sunday before spending time with the family and then on Monday night, he killed himself with no explanation,’ Luke told The Guardian.
Through the shock and trauma of dealing with this young man’s unexpected suicide, the thought occurred to Luke there was nowhere outside the family where Andy could have unburdened himself without feeling chastised or judged for having a mental health problem.
And so the idea of Andy’s Man Club was born, to encourage men from all walks of life to come and chat with other blokes in Luke’s home town of Halifax in Ireland.
More than 20 men attended Andy’s Man Club in the first weeks, and Luke received hundreds of emails and calls, showing him the desperate need for
Luke then took it a step further and created the social media campaign #ItsOkayToTalk, where he encouraged men to post pictures of themselves making an ‘ok’ sign with their fingers on their facebook pages.
Celebrities such as actor Ricky Gervais jumped on board to support Luke, along with former UK health minister Norman Lamb, who posted #ItsOkayToTalk pictures.
In this Mental Health Week (9–15 October), it’s sobering to know that in the UK during 2014 there were 4,630 men who committed suicide. In Australia, 2,160 men killed themselves in the same year.
The Andy’s Man Club website explains that ‘this is a place for men to come together in a safe environment to talk about issues or problems they are facing. The benefit is there are other men who have been in similar situations and can help you with advice on how they have dealt with the situation. We want to give men somewhere to go where they feel they can talk!’
Luke’s #ItsOkayToTalk campaign went viral and attracted attention and feedback from across the world and his final comment to The Guardian is a powerful message for all men.
‘I’m urging people that when they’re in a dark place, reach out and look at Andy’s Man Club and see what we can do for you. Try to talk, it’s not weak whatsoever to talk,’ he told The Guardian.
‘If we could have set this up before Andy died then we wouldn’t have his two-year-old daughter growing up without her father.’
We may not have Andy’s Man Club in Australia yet, but we do have
Lifeline 13 11 14 and beyondblue on 1300 224 636 ready and waiting to help.