Written by Megan Pilon, Dean Saunders & Megan Turner
*Trigger Warning: the content of this post involves discussion of suicide, and may be emotionally challenging for some people*
In 2019, Matt Agnew was the star of Network 10’s The Bachelor. In 2021, Matt attempted to take his own life. An engineer, astrophysicist, author, and social commentator, Matt recently made headlines for his candid interview with The Jess Rowe Big Talk Show1. In the podcast, Matt spoke openly about his lifelong struggle with mental ill health, sharing that he has been treated for anxiety and mood disturbances since he was 12 years old.
Matt described his struggles with anxiety as a child, and reported that as an adult he experienced a decline in his mental health and a subsequent diagnosis of clinical depression.1 Matt managed this until “[things] got bad a few years ago, where I tried to end my life… I was kind of just inconsolable and ended up being admitted as an inpatient for three weeks at a mental health hospital.” Since then, he has been diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder and generalised anxiety disorder.1
Matt’s story characterises the experience of many Australian boys and men, with 1 in 11 Australian boys aged 10 – 14 years old experiencing anxiety2. In adolescence and adulthood, depression is the most common disorder in Australian males.2 Like Matt, 1.29 million Australian males aged 16 to 85 experience a mood disorder, such as a depressive episode or bipolar disorder, over their lifetime3. Matt is one of many men who have been hospitalised for attempts to take their own lives. Indeed, Australian men make up over three quarters of deaths by suicide. This translates to more than 6 male suicides every day2.
What is driving this?
Help seeking behaviours and engagement with mental health services by men is low. According to a recent study2, over half of Australian males aged between 15 and 60 years said they would be unlikely or very unlikely to seek help from a mental health professional, and even fewer would seek help from a phone helpline. Particularly worrying is that almost a quarter said they would not seek help from anyone2.
This reluctance may be related to practical considerations such as cost and wait times, as well as stigma around mental health in men5. Traditional masculine norms that promote self-reliance, stoicism, and invulnerability lead to perceptions that experiencing and expressing negative emotions is a sign of weakness, discouraging men from reaching out to friends, family, and health professionals6.
What can we do?
A recent review of evidence published in the American Journal of Mens Health concluded that using role models to convey information, and improving mental health knowledge, are two ways to promote help-seeking attitudes, intentions, and behaviours in men6.
We can all encourage the men in our lives to share their experiences and remind them that it takes courage and strength to speak out5. We can also remind men that there are options for support.
Psychological and pharmacological therapies7,8 can be accessed through a General Practitioner (GP), and new approaches, such as lifestyle-based therapies that target dietary10 and exercise11 behaviour change, are also being explored12. The Food & Mood Centre’s own HARMON-E research trial is currently recruiting to examine two group-based, telehealth delivered mental health programs, to see if either program can improve people’s depression levels, and other areas of mental and physical health.
Standing strong as a role model for support seeking, Matt Agnew defined his own “several pronged approach” to mental health management:
“Mental illness is not your fault – but it is your responsibility. It’s why I look after my physical health, I see a psychologist for therapy and a psychiatrist for additional therapy and medication tweaks. I have GPs I regularly check in [with]. I make sure I socialise, even if I’m feeling flat. I know it’s important [to help me] manage it and work through it.”1
Matt’s journey has been a tough one, but by sharing his experience and seeking support from family, friends, and health professionals, he has been able to manage his challenges with mental health.
Now let’s all sit back and recognise – that takes strength.
There are many options for men and boys seeking support for their mental health. Access the Life in Mind directory filtered to “men” to find options that are right for you.
If you’re an Australian adult with depression or bipolar disorder, you might be eligible for our HARMON-E trial. Be part of one of two group-based, telehealth delivered, mental health programs run over 8 weeks, to see if either program can improve people’s depression levels, and other areas of mental and physical health.
- Jessica Rowe (Host). 19th April 2023, Dr Matt Agnew: “I’ve had a long battle with mental illness.” The Jess Rowe Big Talk Show, E20, S3. [Audio podcast episode]. Retrieved from https://play.listnr.com/podcast/the-jess-rowe-big-talk-show
- Terhaag, S., Quinn, B., Swami, N., & Daraganova, G. (2020). Mental health of Australian males: Depression, suicidality and loneliness, In Ten to Men – The Australian longitudinal study on male health insights report. Australian Institute of Family Studies. Retrieved from https://tentomen.org.au/sites/default/files/publication-documents/2020_ttm_insights_report_chapter_1.pdf
- Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2021). National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing. ABS. https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/mental-health/national-study-mental-health-and-wellbeing/2020-21.
- World Health Organisation (WHO). (2019). Suicide in the world: Global health estimates. Retrieved from https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/326948/WHO-MSD-MER-19.3-eng.pdf
- Australian Institute of Family Studies. (AIFS). (2020). Media Release: Depression, suicidality and loneliness: Mental health and Australian men. https://aifs.gov.au/sites/default/files/mediarelease-ttm_insights-mental_health_0.pdf
- Sagar-Ouriaghli, I., Godfrey, E., Bridge, L., Meade, L., & Brown, J.S.L. (2019). Improving Mental Health Service Utilization Among Men: A Systematic Review and Synthesis of Behavior Change Techniques Within Interventions Targeting Help-Seeking. American Journal of Mens Health, (3). doi:10.1177/1557988319857009
- Cuijpers, P., & Dekker, J. (2005). Psychological treatment of depression: A systematic review of meta-analyses. Nederlands Tijdschrift Voor Geneeskunde, 149(34), 1892–1897.
- Cuijpers, P., Sijbrandij, M., Koole, S., Huibers, M., Berking, M., & Andersson, G. (2014). Psychological treatment of generalized anxiety disorder: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 34. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2014.01.002
- Bayes J, Schloss J, Sibbritt D. The effect of a Mediterranean diet on the symptoms of depression in young males (the “AMMEND: A Mediterranean Diet in MEN with Depression” study): a randomized controlled trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2022 Aug 4;116(2):572-580. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqac106.
- Klaperski, S., & Fuchs, R. (2021). Investigation of the stress-buffering effect of physical exercise and fitness on mental and physical health outcomes in insufficiently active men: A randomized controlled trial. Mental Health and Physical Activity, 21(100408) doi:10.1016/j.mhpa.2021.100408
- Drew, R. J., Morgan, P. J., Pollock, E. R., Young, M. D. (2020). Impact of male-only lifestyle interventions on men’s mental health: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews, 21(7), doi:10.1111/obr.13014