CW: suicide attempts & sexual abuse
Over the past few years I’ve worked with, and spoken to, many different men from diverse walks of life…and what I’ve found is this: men are hurting.
Despite the message often heralded by mainstream media/liberal feminism, being male doesn’t always equate to ‘privilege.’ In fact, there are many areas in society where men are impacted negatively at far greater levels than women; particularly when it comes to suicide rates.
As a writing mentor and ghostwriter for everyday people with inspiring stories, I’ve heard it all…and what I want people to know, is this: all too often, men are still suffering in silence.
The men I work with are often dealing with deep wounds and trauma (more often than not, inflicted in childhood), which commonly result in addictions, mental illness, and self-destructive behaviour.
To most of us, this is – tragically – no surprise.
Every day in Australia, around 6 men die by suicide. Data from 2018 also reveals that Australian men are 3x as likely as women to die via suicide (ABS, 2019).
And while the stigma around mental health is slowly being broken down, sadly, it still remains. It’s something I know all too well; particularly given that I lost my own dad to suicide when I was just 18.
So, for men’s health week, I wanted to put together a list of some of the beautiful, courageous, and world-changing men I’ve worked with as part of my book series: ‘Reasons to Live: One more day, every day.’
Read on to get to know a little about the lives, struggles, and triumphs of these men; and most importantly, their message to others who are trapped by the stigma of mental illness, despair, and depression.
RENE REDDINGIUS (WA, AUS)
Founder of Transcend Initiatives & advocate for ending Aboriginal youth suicide
“2004 was truly my lowest point. I was living alone, I was away from my kids, and on top of it all, I was also (unknowingly) dealing with PTSD.
“Work was a blessing as it kept me distracted from myself, but every night when I got home I was back in a battle of survival, often lying in a fetal position thinking of ways to kill myself.
“I became very good at acting as though everything was okay, but because I hadn’t addressed what was going on in my soul, I couldn’t heal. Several months later, I again tried to take my life.
“For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, depression and suicide are so commonplace that it’s almost impossible to find someone in the community who hasn’t been affected or lost a loved one.
“Sometimes it feels like suicide is the best way out, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that it’s not. I want young people to be inspired to stay grounded within their own truth, to find who they are and to walk proudly in their own shoes. Finding true balance in your life and learning to love yourself are your greatest gifts.”
KEVIN HINES (United States)
Globally renowned storyteller/speaker, award-winning documentary filmmaker, and Golden Gate Bridge suicide survivor.
“I’m a guy who is religious about taking medication every day and sticking to a routine.
I’m a guy who has studied bipolar for 20 years, and who knows not to go off medication. But I was in so much physical pain in 2018, as a result of my prescription, that I literally had bloody blisters down my body. I was on the tipping point of something called Stevens-Johnson syndrome — which is a condition that only 1% of people survive — and the pain clouded my judgement…I went off my meds, and I didn’t tell anyone.
” I skyrocketed into such a manic high, I was stuck there. I remember I’d turn to my wife some days and ask, ‘Why are you in my bed?’ She would show me photos of my father, and I’d just look at them blankly and say, ‘I don’t know that man.’
“I’ll tell you, I’ve not fully recovered from that manic high. It did impact me. And while I’m now back to a much better place, it did impact me greatly.
“Here’s the thing. Dealing with physical and mental pain is like walking a tightrope…and I’ve got to take extra care in this space. When I can’t travel [because I’m not doing well], I don’t. I cancel. But you can bet I’ll do everything I can to get there; to help someone who needs to hear a message of hope.
“I, one day at a time, defeat the pain. I don’t always do a good job…but my motto is to be here tomorrow and every day after that, no matter the pain.”
DAN PRICE (NSW, AUS)
Global mental health advocate, suicide survivor, ambassador for Livin.
“Most of the time it felt like I was drowning.
“The only way I can describe it, is as if I were out of the back of the surf, my head every now and then dipping below the surface; thoughts of my family and friends giving me just enough strength to fight for air. I knew I needed to put my hand up. I knew I needed help. I was being robbed of my will to live and was literally struggling to survive, but by then, I’d become too good at hiding my pain.
At 5:45am on the 4th of December 2014, I was spotted by Sydney Harbour Bridge security guards on the other side of the barbed wire safety fence. Somehow, I had walked heel-to-toe along this railing for about 300m, heavily intoxicated and in a world of my own. By the time they spotted me I’d almost made it to the first big bridge pylon.
Reaching through, five or six police quickly grabbed my suit pants and shirt to stop me from falling—or jumping—and after a petrifying 15 minutes or so, a harness was lowered by my side. The railing I was on was so dangerous that no one could jump the fence to help me, and I had to put the harness on myself.
As I was rushed to the hospital—restrained for my own safety in the back of the ambulance— my mind began replaying all the awful, chaotic events of the past 12 months. I found myself both traumatised and scared, but at the same time relieved to be alive. All I wanted was to work out how to never be in that position ever again.
“The past 24 months have been a real fight…but fast forward to 2017 and here I am; the happiest I’ve been in six years! I now have a healthy balance of all the key things in my life: family, friends, work, fitness, and most importantly, relaxation and time to myself. I’ve come to love myself and life again, and am so grateful to still be here.
“For too long mental illness has been perceived as a weakness, but I want young men and women to know that ‘It Ain’t Weak to Speak’; that as long as you’re talking you’re never alone. I believe that people with mental health issues should feel as comfortable talking about their illness and how they are feeling as someone who is fighting a physical illness, such as cancer.”
L-FRESH THE LION (NSW, AUS)
Globally renowned Hip Hop artist, musician & creator
“The first time I realised anxiety was a part of my life was when I was in my late teens.
“By that stage, Mum had been taking me to the doctors for years. I always felt bloated or nervous, like I was going to throw up or something—and I thought there was something seriously wrong with me. It wasn’t until someone helped me understand that it was in fact anxiety, that everything started to make sense. I remember thinking, ‘Oh so that’s what it is!’.Before then I’d always thought I just had a weak stomach or something!
“Everyone’s anxieties are triggered by different things, but for me, it was about not being able to control the stuff I desperately wanted to—like trying to fit in…having experienced quite a lot of racism and discrimination from early on really took its toll on me as a kid, and I think that’s where [it all] began.
“If you’re going through anxiety and you don’t know how to manage it, reaching out might simply be your first step. I think it’s important to speak out, but to also try and find people who have some sort of understanding of what you’re going through.
“I think some of the greatest things we appreciate in life— particularly in the world of art—come from a space of expressing deep emotion. Even very masculine men do that, you know? It’s natural, and we have to break that stigma of expressing ourselves; because if stigma is what’s holding us back, then we’re the ones suffering. The last thing we want to do as humans is live life to suffer—we’re here to enjoy and appreciate it!”
JASON RANTALL (Victoria, AUS)
‘Bipolar Warrior,’ Mental health speaker/advocate, Founder of Bettermentall Together, Suicide Survivor
“Behind the renovations, beautiful home, and rental properties, was a man who was unravelling from the inside.
“Why? Well, once again, alcohol had sweet-talked its way into my daily routine.
“It started slowly, but before I knew it, I had once again become its slave. My relationship was falling apart, my brain was aching, and everything felt like a mess. Looking in the mirror became a nightmare. ‘You’re a burden,’ screamed my reflection. ‘Your children are better off without you. You’re shit at your job. You’re too much hard work.’ The level of self-hatred I had was unbelievable, but the only thing worse were the suicidal thoughts. They were constant.
“Sitting in that dark place, fighting every natural instinct inside of you to live — to keep breathing at all costs — is a fight I don’t wish on anyone. Many fail to understand just how much of a battle it is. It’s not just a random thought. It’s not just a down day. It’s a literal mental battle; a war where you are fighting to live.
“What I didn’t realise at the time though, was that I wasn’t just making the choice to die; I was also choosing to end any opportunity to have the life I dreamt of as a child. I was choosing to end my chance at happiness and the possibility of one day positively impacting the world — in any way.
“By opening up about my journey, I’ve also come to meet many amazing people who’ve been where I am and found a way out, and I now have a whole new tribe of positive people and advocates who really help me stay on track — whether that be my church family or my fellow mental health advocates. These days I leap out of bed in the mornings, and I’m truly excited about what the day will bring.
“If I could go back now and speak any words of wisdom to myself, I would tell the little boy with dreams to keep dreaming; I would tell him to never give up and to keep fighting. I’d say, ‘Mate, as hard as it gets, keep fighting. Life is going to be tough, but everything will be okay. Believe in you and never lose sight of what you want, who you are, and what you dream.’”
DAVID HARRIS (Queensland, AUS)
Poet, Author, Lived-Experience Speaker & Institutional Sexual Abuse Survivor
“That week in my life, as a 17-year-old boy, robbed me of my adolescence.
“Due to the medication, and the trauma experienced at the clinic, I was classified as ‘permanently incapacitated’. I was an emotional zombie. Physically and mentally, the smallest of things became impossible. Communicating clearly with others, making friends, getting a job… It felt like everything had been ripped away from me.
I think people sometimes fail to understand how far the tentacles of entrenched trauma extend into your everyday life. In over 40 years, I have not been able to have a single relationship — or even kiss a woman — due to the association between the sexual abuse I suffered, and the feeling that having a relationship — or even sex — would be painful.
“A turning point in my life came when, after nearly four decades, I decided to speak out publicly. On that day in May 2014, I stood before my college classmates, and for the first time, spoke about the sexual abuse and trauma I suffered at the psychiatric clinic. As I opened up, I was overwhelmed by emotion; I just cried, and cried, and cried. It was the first time I’d expressed emotion in 38 years! As my teacher and fellow students crowded around to offer their support, I felt a massive weight lift from my chest. Finally, I could speak my truth and be heard. Finally.
“It has been a year since I began the long and emotionally traumatic process of seeking compensation for my institutional abuse. What keeps me going through every obstacle, is the knowledge that the more I speak out about things I’m passionate about, like institutional sexual abuse and domestic violence, the more it encourages others to do so.”
MICHAEL CROSSLAND (New South Wales, AUS)
Internationally renowned speaker, Humanitarian, Best-selling author & Childhood cancer survivor
“I was just 11 months old when I was diagnosed with stage four Neuroblastoma—a devastating form of childhood cancer.
“On that day, just prior to my first birthday, doctors told my mother there was no chance of survival and to take me home to be with my family one last time… but despite the overwhelming odds stacked against me, Mum chose to look at my life as being 4% full as opposed to 96% empty—a decision I’ll forever be grateful for.
“Despite Mum’s optimism however, my real challenges were just about to begin—starting with chemo, which I began on my first birthday and continued for nearly four years.
At the age of six, I finally went home.
“By the age of 23 was the youngest National Sales Development Manager for one of the largest companies in the world. I had 600 staff, 120 banks, and reported directly to the CEO.
“I was living a life I’d never thought possible, but at the same time I found that something strange was happening to me—that I was becoming driven by things that had never previously interested me. Suddenly, all I cared about was how I looked, how I was perceived, and what material possessions I owned.
“During this time I was already struggling emotionally, but my mental state was made all the worse by the news that my parents were separating. Listening to Mum’s voice on the phone as she broke the news absolutely crushed my heart, and shortly afterward, I suffered a complete breakdown.
“With my immune system completely shattered, I became sicker and sicker, and for the first time in my life I decided that I just didn’t want to fight anymore. I was done. Every night I prayed to God that I wouldn’t wake up.
“I realised that in order to change my life, I needed to master two things: the gift of giving, and the discovery of what success truly meant. It’s true that each of us has a gift, and I believe mastering a heart of giving is one of them. The truth is, you don’t need to be rich to help an old lady cross the road. You don’t have to be powerful to help someone unpack their trolley or say hello; to share a smile and give someone a hug. The day I truly realised these simple things, I finally discovered clarity in my life.
“I think when you’re faced with serious life and death, every day is a real bonus. People have a choice to wrap themselves in cotton wool and think that their life isn’t fair, or they can choose to embrace life and seek every opportunity. I choose to pack as much as I possibly can into each moment I have left.”
WANT TO READ more of Rene, Dan, Kevin, Michael, David, Jason and L-Fresh’s stories? Grab a copy of Volume 1 and 2 of ‘Reasons to Live One More Day, Every Day’ here for their full chapters.