Turning darkness into daylight

Written by Kerrie Alexander

When you think your life is at rock bottom and there’s nowhere to turn … Fraser Coast Mates has your back.

You have caught up with a mate and you notice that he’s not being his usual upbeat self.

He looks unhappy but continues to reassure you that’s he’s fine, there’s nothing wrong – he’s just a bit stressed but he’ll be okay.

You walk away with your mate on your mind but don’t want to dig any further or pry into his life.

In the coming weeks you receive a phone call that shocks you to your core! Your mate has taken his life.

You asked the question “are you okay”, and that should have been an opening for your friend to speak up, but he didn’t.

He didn’t understand that it’s in no way weak to speak up!

That is the story for many who were the best of friends with local businessman who also left behind a wife and two children five years ago.

A group of about seven of those mates came together not long after his death, still in shock, but all carrying an overwhelming emotion of wanting to bring mental health issues out into the open.

They wanted to find a way to advocate that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Promote that mental health doesn’t discriminate and that it is an illness.

It was at that get together that the ultimate questions were raised.

Why do men feel like they need to hide their emotions and not share the problems that are taking a toll on their life? And, if someone does tell you they need help, what is the next step?

About five months later that same group of men dug deep for those answers and shared them with all the region through the fruition of Fraser Coast Mates.

The not-for-profit group formed a committee and started off by hosting the inaugural Fraser Coast Mates Golf Day, with the view of providing a relaxed and trusting atmosphere where blokes could feel free to have a chat without judgement.

There was over 100 people in attendance for that first game of golf.

Now five years on, founding member Darren Bosley said the organisation has gone from strength to strength, with over 200 people attending the annual golf day, plus the building of solid foundations when it comes to providing essential services that men can access in their time of need.

While Australia-wide services do an outstanding job, Darren said it was an important aspect for their organisation to focus on providing a local, more personalised form of help.

From that, the Fraser Coast Mates Website and Facebook page was launched, and a local counsellor from Trauma Assist was made accessible typically within 72 hours of anyone needing help.

FCM encourage anyone with mental health issues to seek the advice of a GP, with many of the possible outcomes being to make an appointment with a councillor.

However, with local services already stretched many couldn’t get the help they needed right away and gave up trying.

“The most crucial step to this is when people finally admit they have a problem and have put up their hand to say they need help, then they struggle to get the help,” Darren said.

“With our councillor we can typically get them in within 72 hours.

“They are a really responsive and a great organisation and I know of guys that, by seeing them, they have saved their lives.

“They made the biggest hurdle of recognising they need help. The most successful results I’ve seen in guys is getting the tools they need to deal with their mental health issues.”

As a society, awareness surrounding mental health has certainly been brought into the spotlight in recent years but what still needs work, Darren said, is making it easier for people to speak up and helping the ones listening to know what steps to take to help that person.

Fraser Coast Mates is a brilliant platform for both instances.

“We ask the question a lot ‘are you okay’, which is great, but it doesn’t necessarily come out the first time you ask it.

“It’s constantly checking in with friends and constantly reminding them that they can trust them to speak up and share their feelings.

“The next thing is if someone does open up, how do you handle it?

“That was something back from the original committee asking where do we go and what do we do.

“Through our website we are trying to make it easier for people to find the services but part of it is also educating people to be really good listeners and if someone does speak up, to feel comfortable with someone sharing their feelings with them and what you’re going to do from them there.

“Not everyone has to be educated enough to provide the right advice, but everyone can at least say we’re here to help and listen and find the right service.”

Darren said the next step is ensuring that person actually takes the steps to seek help.

“Statistics show that 75% of suicides don’t speak to a professional service!

“That tells me that 75% of people taking their lives haven’t gone and tried these services and we need to change that.

“If you can, sit down with them and make that first appointment to see a counsellor.”

From there, the counsellor will tailor a plan for that person, arming them with the tools they need to cope with their depression or anxiety.

What works for one person may not work for the next, Darren said.

“Most of the time the person’s life is out of routine and they withdraw from society.

“So let’s get a routine going with some self-care and that could be something as simple as taking time out to go for a walk, go fishing or read a book.

Don’t discount any mental health service … go and give it a try and see what works for you.”

If you need help or know someone that does, jump online and head to frasercoastmates.com.au, find their details on Facebook or email admin@frasercoastmates.com.au.

You can also access the Little Black Book on the FCM website. The book, an initiative of FCM and Fraser Coast Regional Council, is a directory of services, contacts and support groups, which aims to empower men to reach their potential and enjoy a long and high-quality life.

A healthy man, in body and mind, creates healthy relationships, healthy families and healthy communities.

Please remember, it aint weak to speak!