Tuesday July 30 is International Day of Friendship (often called Friendship Day or Friend’s Day) and while it’s not widely celebrated in Australia, it’s still a great reminder to check in and catch up with a mate — especially if you think he might be struggling with his mental health.
Mental health and reaching out to a mate
It’s a fact of life that mental health is directly linked to quality of life.
When we feel content or happy, our outlook improves. We tend to be more motivated, more resilient, and better able to overcome life’s challenges. Importantly, we’re less likely to do things that may cause harm to ourselves or our relationships.
The opposite is often true when we’re stressed, worried or feeling down. We may struggle to do things we would otherwise enjoy and we may also be more prone to anger, frustration or anxiety when dealing with difficulties. We may even engage in damaging or destructive behaviour like substance or alcohol abuse.
Clearly, looking after your mental health is important. In fact, there’s a growing field of study that seeks to understand the close relationship between mental health, wellbeing and even pain tolerance and life expectancy. True, researchers are only just beginning to fully understand the true extent to which psychological and physical factors interact, but what we do know is that one very much affects the other.
Talking about it
Imagine if you or a mate had been feeling ill for a while and that this was beginning to affect your or his happiness. Would you be overly concerned at the prospect of talking about the problem if it meant coming up with a solution?
Now consider how close the relationship is between body and mind. Would doing the same by talking about mental health really be so different?
Indeed, one of the best things that anyone can do when faced with stress or worry is to talk it out with someone.
The mere act of talking about a worry or concern can help change someone’s outlook and can help them cope with their difficulties. It may provide a better (or at least different) perspective, or it may even give someone the clarity of mind and confidence to take action to overcome their concerns.
For one thing, talking it out could help prevent a smaller issue from becoming a larger one that actually starts to affect quality of life. For example, anxiety about money or specific social situations could, if not talked about and left unaddressed for too long, lead to generalised anxiety about spending, or avoidant social anxiety behaviour.
Having said that, it may not actually be you who would benefit from talking it out…
Your mate may be the one who needs to talk it out
Let’s be honest. A lot of blokes don’t really talk about their ‘feelings’. They may look like they’re just fine but you suspect something’s not quite right. That’s why it’s important for you to do the reaching out if you’re concerned about how a mate is travelling.
Think of someone who may have been struggling lately and you haven’t heard from in a while. Helping out here doesn’t mean immediately making it about deep emotions or feelings. Instead, what you can do is check in, catch up, ask how they’re going, and (if necessary) checking back in at another time.
A great example is the Queensland-based #CheckYourMates campaign. This initiative is part of a wider suicide prevention project among veterans and ex-Defence members in Townsville, the town with Australia’s highest concentration of current and ex-Defence members.
#CheckYourMates encourages people to check in with a buddy, especially if it’s someone you haven’t seen for a while. The idea is to catch up in person — whether it’s fishing, going to the footy, playing a round of golf or grabbing a feed — and to see how they’re going. The intention is to listen without judging and to provide support and help if they’re struggling.
#CheckYourMates began as a suicide prevention campaign among members of the ex-Defence community. It has been very successful on social media, so much so that it’s gone well beyond Townsville. One reason for that is the fact that the principle can be effective for anyone.
Reach out to a mate this week
Along with the body of research that suggests mental health is closely linked to physical health, so too is there is growing evidence that social connection is vital to our mental health. Quite simply, being connected and knowing that somebody’s got your back can make a huge difference to our outlook.
What is friendship if we’re not there for our mates when they need us? Reaching out to a mate can be as simple as letting someone know you’re there for them — and that is as good a reason as any to check in with a mate to see how they’re going this International Day Of Friendship.
MensLine Australia is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with professional counsellors providing information and support for all emotional health and relationship issues.