As a professional lifeguard based at Noosa, Keaton often sees people in acute distress – and not just when rescuing beachgoers from drowning. “We go to the most bizarre things that you wouldn’t imagine happening at the beach – people choking in restaurants, boat roll overs, bushfires, suicide attempts, people washed off rocks, heart attacks. We are often the first help to arrive.”
When providing first aid, Keaton offers both mental and physical support. “You see a lot of people at their worst, they’re at their lowest point, and you’re the only one there helping them to come back from it. People often come and thank you afterwards.”
While lifeguards save many lives, they also deal with rescues where people don’t make it out alive. Keaton believes that a key factor that supports his mental health is the surf life-saving culture, which encourages debriefing and speaking up about your feelings after a serious incident. Keaton says this is a key barrier for many men: “Thinking they can’t speak to someone about how they’re feeling or people will think they’re not strong, or that they’re weak. Knowing I can talk to my team and my family is a big part of why I’ve always been someone who has dealt with these things well.”
Tony has drawn on his experience of trauma to develop a unique pathway for himself and others to embrace growth and change. From childhood, Tony disconnected from his sense of self, family and peers, which culminated in a suicide attempt at age 14. He finished school feeling like an outsider, at 18 he met his wife and later travelled to the Greek island of Crete where he found a safe place to rebuild self-confidence while working at a yoga centre. On their return to Australia, the couple opened a yoga studio on the Sunshine Coast. His life changed dramatically after Tony was involved in a serious car accident, resulting in the loss of his lower right leg. When this exacerbated underlying anger and depression, his wife suggested he attend a Men’s Common Ground program. “I didn’t want to go at first, I thought I was too good for it. But I went and listened to these men and realised I am not alone. Other men haven’t got it all sussed as well. Once I found that out, I wanted to be part of something that showed people that it’s OK to be vulnerable and it’s essential to reconnect with who you are.” He also studied intensively with the Emergent Leaders Foundation. After his marriage ended, Tony journeyed deep within, he discovered breathwork and realised it was a powerful tool to open up and recover. A trained facilitator and experienced mentor, he now runs Heart Centred Journeys which offers healing journeys for people from all walks of life to reconnect with themselves and their heart. He also runs men’s groups and retreats, embracing all aspects related to being a man including asking participants to identify the masks they wear – the tough guy, the people pleaser – and then to ask themselves what that has cost them. “Men will open up and say it has cost me my sense of self and left me disconnected.” He helps men to then begin the journey of remembering who they truly are.
“These are the gifts I’ve learnt from my trauma – to reconnect and know myself better, so that I can assist and hold space for others to do the same.”
After relocating from his native Samoa to New Zealand, Vika experienced childhood trauma that led to his involvement with gangs and drugs. He survived three suicide attempts as he struggled to provide for his growing family. After his father passed away, his mother gave him permission to get the traditional Samoan tattoo, the b’ta, signifying he was ready to become a warrior or chief. He saw this cultural milestone as a time to step up into being more responsible as a man and leader of his family, turning his back on a destructive lifestyle. He moved his family to Queensland in 2008 to start afresh, believing this move saved his life. “For a couple of years, all my friends were in gangs, suiciding or getting shot. I was too scared to fall into that life again, so I didn’t go home.” Still wanting to help them from afar, Vika set up the UCE Movement (Awareness Belonging Connection) for anyone struggling with mental health and suicidality. It reaches across Australia and into New Zealand. Vika and his team of seven mentors and counsellors regularly drive vast distances from Cairns to the Gold Coast to help others. Open to everyone, the UCE Movement has a strong focus on family communication, with the targeted “it’s not weak to speak” message for men to open up to their partners and children. “I want men to know that no matter how big you are or how tough you look, there’s always a support system out there for you.”
Pastor* uses his experience of surviving a suicide attempt at 17 to help men understand the real consequences for themselves and those they leave behind. “I am 47 years old today and looking back on all the things I would not have lived or done is a pretty privileged thing to do. I was given a second chance that so many don’t get.”
Pastor was home alone when he tried to take his life, and only survived because his sister came home from the movies earlier than expected, raising the alarm so Pastor could be rushed to hospital in time. After being led out of the emergency room in a wheelchair, Pastor clearly remembers seeing his shocked family in the waiting room, including cousins who drove from a city three hours away. “This didn’t fit with my idea of myself that I didn’t matter to anyone. I had an opportunity to see all the carnage I would’ve left behind for my family and friends to deal with, and to go their entire lives trying to find answers that would never have come to them. Because I never spoke to anyone about how I was feeling, nobody saw it coming.” Pastor took this as a sign that he could use his voice to support others to speak up about their suicidal thoughts. “A lot of people on the suicide path think unless you’re there too, you don’t understand. Friends have called me from very dark places and I have managed to talk them out of it.”
*Pastor is a first name and is not a religious title in this case.
Financial strain and relationship breakdown are two common factors that precede a mental health crisis in men. After losing his business, Mike spiralled into depression. His mental health worsened again after his marriage ended, leading to suicidal feelings. He didn’t realise how mentally unwell he was until his daughter told him he had to do something because he was not functioning. She sounded the wake-up call Mike needed to seek help. He saw a therapist who helped him take his first steps to recovery. He now works two jobs in hospitality and lives in a share house. Despite the upheaval he has gone through, Mike feels reconnected to life with the help of a strong support group around him, led by his daughter. Mike also credits his faithful dog Kenya for helping him through his darkest days.
Danny Morrison used his platform as an international cricket star to raise awareness of suicide prevention. Danny’s motivation comes from his personal experience of losing his sister to suicide. His grief from this loss led to his own battles with depression and addiction. Danny shares his own story to encourage other men to know that it is okay to open up and be vulnerable and seek the help you need.
James Hill is a speaker for Beyond Blue, a Mental Health First Aid instructor, suicide awareness safeTALK instructor and mental health advocate for Energy Queensland. But James wasn’t always aware of the importance of understanding and looking after your own mental health wellbeing. His own struggles led him to contact Beyond Blue. He openly shares his own mental illness experience to change the culture that exists of men not asking for help.
“The environment I was working in very much had a mentality of ‘toughen up’ and that was my biggest undoing.”
Mason Hope is a singer songwriter and headspace Ambassador.
Headspace provides mental health services for people aged 12-25 years. Mason’s song writing is reflective of our Aussie culture that makes it difficult for men to seek help with their mental health issues. His single “Let it Go” is a call for men to find strength in supporting each other.
Singer/songwriter and country music legend, Col’s music speaks to a generation of men that find it difficult to open up about mental health.
“Like many people, I have a ‘mate’ called anxiety. He turns up at the worst possible times. Music helps me deal with my mate anxiety and his mate depression and, along with other techniques learnt from Beyond Blue, send him on his way.”
As a police officer working for the Vulnerable Persons Unit, Paul is part of a specialised team of three who review all mental health crises on the Sunshine Coast where police have been called. He currently participates in the PACER (Police & Clinical Early Responder) program, where he attends with a mental health nurse to assess if the person needs a mental health assessment in the home, and to assist with any de-escalation. Using this approach, 80% of those seen by the PACER team remain at home (with supports) avoiding the need for hospital admissions – a much better outcome for the person, police and community. Sadly, Paul has seen first-hand how PTSD, suicide and other issues affect first responders. “A high number of work colleagues have had to leave the police service due to PTSD and other mental health conditions. I can see that there is no organisation alone that can affect change in this area, but it needs to be a large-scale collaborative effort.”
Through his podcast and radio programs, Matt is having real and authentic conversations that challenge the ‘Aussie men’s culture’ of being strong and stoic. These conversations often shine a light on underlying mental health issues in our community.
Experiencing his own feelings of disconnection at an early age, Jandamarra’s childhood was shaped by bullying, racism and collisions with the law. Eventually discovering his weapon of choice was a paint brush, Jandamarra’s emotive artwork is bridging the gap between his indigenous culture and modern Australia. His paintings connect with many, including through his entries to the Archibald Prize.
As president of the Maroochy RSL subbranch, Michael understands that many veterans grapple with what they’ve seen in war-torn countries. “You get trained very well as a soldier, but you don’t get trained for the things that you see on deployment that can be very confronting. I brought home uncomfortable memories that still linger.” Joining the army at 18, Michael was deployed to both East Timor and Iraq during his military career. Witnessing so much devastation led him to develop more empathy for oppressed people everywhere. At the same time, the mental impact took a toll and he was eventually diagnosed with mild post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He manages it by learning to recognise his triggers so he can get help. “I hate hearing that a young soldier has taken their life. Trust is the biggest factor stopping people with PTSD talking about their issues. You need someone you can talk to who is not judgmental to lend you an ear. PTSD is found in all walks of life. It can be treated but you’ve got to take the first step. It’s not a sign of weakness to seek help.” He is keen to see all veterans recognised equally for their contribution, whether deployed overseas or serving in Australia.
As a suicide survivor, Nathan has an empathy and understanding of what it feels like to be in a place no hope. After losing a young relative to suicide, Nathan founded his charity, Comunite’z, to help teenagers navigate the emotional landscape of adolescence. Nathan is passionate about providing messages of hope. “I’m a living, breathing example that life gets better.”
Sam founded Grab Life by the Balls – a mateship movement that offers men relaxed, fun events in which to connect and ‘have a chin wag’ on the Sunshine Coast. The popularity of the group has seen Sam and his network of ‘wingmen’ expand ‘The Balls’ to other areas of Queensland. Sam isn’t stopping there – he’s now on a tour to establish more groups across Australia.
The impact of losing his brother and two close clients to suicide within a short period of time was so great, that Leon has dedicated his life to suicide prevention. After his brother’s death 9 years ago, Leon found himself at a crossroads with his own mental health. He has since become an advocate for mental health awareness and suicide prevention and actively coaches, counsels and inspires others through his business Body By Leon and through book writing and publishing.
Blase is a leader among men. Through his work as a coach and men’s group facilitator, Blase is holding space for men to “crack themselves open to acknowledge, expose and live their truth”. He is creating a powerful social movement for men to embrace their vulnerabilities and become more conscious in their lives and in their roles within family.
Having faced suicide himself, Kurek knows first-hand the isolating experience of addiction and depression. After losing five friends in a freak helicopter accident, Kurek’s own life spun out of control. He not only turned his life around, he has now transformed thousands of lives through his work as a success and peak performance coach.
A mountain bike accident left Darron Eastwell with a traumatic brain injury. He went from high-flying corporate banker one day to brain injury patient the next. His role as provider and the family dynamic changed forever. Through rehabilitation, therapy and a newfound sense of gratitude, Darron has emerged from the experience as a brain injury survivor and inspiration to others. “The old Darron finished back at the accident. This new Darron is learning to live again.”
Peter is a senior constable in the Vulnerable Persons Unit, which deals exclusively with any mental health crisis in the community where police are required to become involved. He works alongside Paul Frazer (who also appears in this exhibition) in a specialised team of three very committed Queensland Police Service members (two police and one civilian).
Peter has an interest in domestic violence and in mental health due to personal experience and a desire to learn and help. He has lived experience from a family member suffering significant mental health issues. Peter says that his knowledge and understanding of mental health has transformed through this work. As a first responder, he is confronted with life-threatening situations – including being first on the scene to the hostage-taking and attempted murder of a 12-year-old girl and the suicide of the male perpetrator who held her captive. He was also the first to respond to an attempted murder of an infant child by a mother suffering postnatal depression. “I have had exposure to critical incidents involving members of the public and work colleagues, including attempted and completed suicides. Thus, my interest in mental health and with supporting vulnerable people through difficult times.”
Founder of Average Joes, a men’s meet-up group offering conversation and mateship, Wayne is committed to creating a men’s network that can offer support and mentorship and a place of no judgement. “Men joke about what they want to talk about. It can be difficult to talk about matters of the heart”.
Portraits of Mankind began with Daniel Bennett. Daniel was instrumental in getting this project started and in fact was the first man to be photographed. Daniel recognises the importance of holding space for men to express themselves and the personal power that comes from being acknowledged and accepted for who you are.
Ashton’s commitment to helping victims of domestic violence sees him at the forefront of his charity DV Safe Phone, an initiative to get working mobile phones to victims of domestic violence. He inspires not only local community to support by donating working mobile phones, but also has engaged big business to step into the space of social responsibility.
Mark is the father of two girls who suffer from eating disorders. He founded endED with the goal of giving hope to those suffering from an eating disorder by creating an alternative to the medical model. Mark has led the support of eating disorders on the Sunshine Coast.
Trent took the brave step of leaving the security of a well-paid job in construction to follow his soul’s yearning. Trent has recreated himself as a healer within his community through his business “High on Chi”. He has supported many men through mental health challenges using the modalities of acupuncture, yoga and mindfulness.
Tim is a former Special Forces soldier whose military service involved dangerous work, such as disrupting a potential civil war in Timor-Leste and deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. But he was surprised to discover his biggest challenge was the organisational culture within his unit. “In 2018, I fell into a crushing slump, but it was not about battlefield trauma. For me it was the realisation that those I worked closely with didn’t support me. It was a failure of organisational culture that led to my mental health problems.” Upon discharge, he used his paramedic skills as a fly in/fly out worker in the energy sector, but began suffering angry outbursts, heavy drinking and loss of motivation. He was diagnosed with PTSD and chronic depressive disorder. He credits his recovery to taking an 18-month break, which left time for self-reflection and enabled him to complete a 12-week psychologist-led course that gave him healthy coping strategies. Recently, Tim branched out into workplace health and safety training and has set up a charity that provides medical and retrieval services for trauma patients in remote or hostile environments. “All the parts of who I am, my values and what I learned from how I was treated or mistreated is how I now treat my staff. It’s given me the opportunity to do it my way.”