Men living and working in regional and rural areas are seen as stoic and tough. We know that this reinforces the stereotype that ‘men don’t cry and they don’t talk about their feelings’. Because of this, men in regional and rural areas of Victoria are at higher risk of poor mental health and suicide. This risk is increased by geographical challenges that limit access to mental health training, support and services.
In response to community concerns about the increase in suicides in a regional local government area of Victoria, the local shire council launched a suicide prevention project. A group of local men challenged the stereotype and created a group that become known as Chat and Chomp. Each member of Chat and Chomp was approached by the project team and agreed to volunteer their time to help their community.
The Chat and Chomp group were provided with mental health training and funds to organise community events. The aim of these events was to improve social connection and increase mental health awareness. The group decided not to use the phrases ‘suicide prevention’ or ‘mental health’ as they felt these would deter men in the community from attending. So the phrase ‘mental wellbeing’ was used instead. The Chat and Chomp group organised a range of activities across the shire and encouraged attendees to ‘bring a mate’ to increase attendance by potentially isolated community members.
The events included golf without balls (guest speakers at the golf club), rusty cricket (for over 50s), regular music jam sessions and many more. A key component of the events was that men who attended had something to do or something to eat. They found that if men had something to do with their hands, they were more likely to talk. This was demonstrated as participation continued to grow – and so did the honesty in conversations.
Many men in this shire work long days as tradesmen or are isolated on farms. These events provided an opportunity for social connection that they otherwise may not have had. They also provided a safe place to have conversations about mental health and challenge the stereotype that men don’t talk.
Multiple benefits have come from the Chat and Chomp community events. People have made new friends, been connected to employment and known where to go in moments of crisis. The Chat and Chomp group created a ripple effect within their community, increasing social connection and awareness of mental health in a hard-to-reach population. The benefits of these events are clearly appreciated by the community as over 40 men have now volunteered to join the Chat and Chomp group.
Although the project has officially finished, Chat and Chomp continues to organise community events that increase social connection and mental health awareness within this local area. This is testament to the sustainability of this type of project; when men are given ownership of the conversations they will continue. We know that men prefer to talk to other men about mental health, so there is a need to upskill men in regional and rural areas to have the confidence to talk about mental health and wellbeing.
Providing men with access to mental health training and opportunities for social connection challenged the stereotype surrounding mental health in this local area. Key to the success of the approach was the recognition that being active encourages men to have meaningful conversations.
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