Giving voice to young men’s mental health

Giving voice to young men’s mental health

Student Sam Bell and alumnus Jack Walker have been exploring men’s mental health in their own podcast series this year. For Mental Health Awareness Week, myView sat down with them to discuss their goals around getting young men to talk about their feelings.

Jack Walker (left) and Sam Ball are the creators and co-host’s of Go on, Mate, a podcast about young men’s mental health .

myView: How did you get to know each other?

Sam: We played each other in a high school golf tournament five or six years ago. We recognised each other when we started working at Boulcott Hall. I am an RA there and Jack was my team-mate last year.

myView: What’s your relationship with young men’s mental health and how did that lead to creating a podcast?

Jack: We both went to boys’ schools and noticed a toxic culture there. I think that people are starting to change, but we have a long way to go. It’s that culture of ‘masculinity equals not talking about your problems’ that’s the issue. As young men, we are taught from an early age that we should hide our weaknesses and that we should not openly communicate our emotions. Only after going through some things personally did I realise that often our weaknesses can become our biggest strengths if we learn to embrace them. I was thinking about this culture after listening to another podcast and how we learn these beliefs from the people around us. I figured that if we can show a shift towards vulnerability in men around NZ then maybe more guys would be feel more comfortable opening up a bit.

Sam: Jack called me and said “I wanna start a podcast” and I thought “great, another couple of white guys in their 20s doing a podcast”. But, then he said that it would be about destigmatising the discussion around mental health and young men, so I thought why not.

myView: Do you think that the problems are specific to New Zealand men?

Jack: I’d say it’s probably more to do with the gender than the country. I think people are starting to wake up to it though. We thought we’d be able to drive change, because if people have someone they look up to in their immediate vicinity who says, “I’m cool with it”(discussing mental health)—then that might start to change things. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist in other groups of people, but in us young guys it is a major issue.

Sam: It’s all well and good to say “I do talk about it” but to actually listen to people talking about mental health who you can see around campus or on my Instagram feed it and see they’re opening the doors up and showing us that they’re doing it, is important.

Go on, Mate is available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. It is hosted by University student Sam Bell and alumnus Jack Walker.

myView: What do male students face that might be a bit different to other groups?

Jack: Masculinity is poorly defined, and the definition we do have is quite constrained. A lot of guys come into university not having yet developed that self-awareness and individualism that it takes to grow as a person and so they use the stereotypes we are taught as a guide. I think that we need to encourage more young men to embrace the things that make them unique and to challenge these stereotypes of what it means to be a man. We need to broaden that definition.

MyView: How important is friendship for young guys?

Jack: I’m from down south, which is stereotypically…

Sam: (interrupting): A hot bed of vulnerability.

Jack: (continued): …very traditional and conservative. I’ve seen friends go through things and the kind of behaviors they show when things get tough, I just don’t think they are comfortable having these kinds of conversations. I’m not saying they don’tdoesn’t happen, but they need to happen more. It’s easy to talk about your next fishing trip or the rugby on the weekend but the easiest way for us guys to start to fix these problems is to learn to have difficult conversations with your mates.

Sam: It’s difficult to envision a world in the near future where you could walk up to a random and say “hey I’m not feeling great” and it feels just as treatable or regular as having a papercut. The last few generations of New Zealanders haven’t been brought up on that philosophy, but I think that’s definitely what we need to work towards.  

myView: Is the goal being able to open up to anyone?

Sam: For me, family’s first but friends are the family you can choose. It’s important for young men around New Zealand to have those few friends that you can consider as family and talk about anything blamelessly, and guilt free. It’s difficult to envision a future where you could just talk to anyone on the street.

Jack: We’re in a shift where guys are starting to learn to open up more and I think it comes down to learning to listen, rather than learning to talk. More often than not, guys go for the practical solution rather than hearing the problem out. If you can just sit in that moment and be vulnerable with the person, you can see that you don’t always have to be the one to fix the problem, and that sometimes being there with them is enough.

Sam: Lots of people are afraid of the fact that they’re not an expert, and the message is: that’s fine – just be there and that’s a start.

Jack: Sympathy not solutions is the answer. Sometimes the banter that goes around between guys can be a bit problematic, and if we can learn to see things from the other person’s point of view, that would go a long way towards solving the problem.

This year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week—take time to kōrero 

: If you could go back to the start of your degree and give yourself one piece of wellbeing advice, what would that be?

Jack: Find a purpose/something that gives you meaning. It’s a cliché I know. It took me a while to realise that even though I enjoy doing architecture and design, it wasn’t the only thing I enjoy. There were other things in high school that I let slip by the wayside that I’m only just getting back in to now. It becomes easy to let work fill your days, but if you have other things that give you purpose, you’ll be happier and better off for it. Life isn’t just about earning money. Find that thing that makes you smile regardless of whether it goes well or not. That’s where you find your purpose.

Sam: My study and writing habits are something that no university handbook should cover. I come from the ‘diamonds are made under pressure’ class of people, so I’d say prioritise the things that you can’t do another time. If you’re planning to go watch a movie and your friend wants to hang out, put the movie on hold— it’s not going anywhere, but the opportunity for that conversation with a friend is fleeting.

MyView: If each New Zealand city was a person, who do you think would talk about its feelings the most?

Jack: That’s a tough question. I don’t think there is a city that stands out from the rest, but I would say that Wellington is probably the most progressive on that front. The people here are terrific at communicating their thoughts and feelings on pretty much anything. That being said, we still have a long journey ahead.

Sam: I’d say Wellington is the most diverse city I’ve ever lived in. You walk down Cuba street and you’ll see every different sort of person under the sun there which is awesome. I think you don’t get as many people who are flat out uncomfortable talking about their feelings in Wellington as you might in Auckland or Christchurch.

MyView: What do your parents think of your promotion of men’s issues?

Sam: All my mum said was “you love the sound of your own voice, so you’ll be fine!”

Jack: My dad listens to the episodes on his commute to work, and he has started to take some things on board which is cool. My mum works in the mechanical department at UC and she shares some things we discuss with her students. They’re both big advocates for these kinds of endeavors, so it’s great to have their support.

Jack Walker has a Bachelor of Architectural Studies, and Sam Bell is studying towards an LLB/BA in English Literature. Their podcast Go on, Mate is available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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