Conversations are the cheapest present going around :: Jono Seidler

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In the past week, three of my friends have reached out to me to say that they needed help with their mental health. While this is already an impressive showing from a pretty small sample size, what makes it truly extraordinary is that all of them are dudes. Thanks to excellent efforts by Movember and their ilk, it should surprise nobody that young men are over-represented when it comes to depression, bipolar disorder and suicide in Australia. We’re also famous for not knowing how (or perhaps more accurately, not wanting) to talk about it, which is perhaps why these combined events hit home so hard.

With a family history of severe depression and a younger brother currently completing his PhD in psychology, I’d like to think that I’m pretty good at flagging warning signs when it comes to this sort of thing. But on the contrary, I could not have picked it from any of these guys, all confident, gainfully employed and frankly hilarious people who have no problems socialising or making friends. Most likely, it’s because I was looking in the wrong place.

Of the three guys I talked to, one I’ve known since primary school. That’s about twenty years. Though we’re not as close as we once were, it’s a sort of unspoken agreement that we’ll drop everything when necessary and be at each others’ side. Both our fathers died within a year, and even though we barely mix in the same circles anymore, we were beside each other all the way.

The others found themselves staring down solitude after the breakdown of very serious, potentially lifelong relationships. Again, we exchanged phone calls, mainly so I could check how they were doing. It seemed like everything was back on track, they were playing music and making things and nothing about their behaviour indicated anything was amiss.

As it turns out, they were all good at dealing with the immediate situation. What was harder is what happened next. When the family and friends stopped visiting. When the concerned mates seemed convinced things were OK. Men, it seems, find it much tougher to deal with the aftershocks of a crisis, episode or loss than the event itself. Believe it or not, break-ups or even funerals can be businesslike. You go through the motions like a zombie. It’s when this structure disappears that things can go bad. You can get yourself into a funk very quickly.

We talked about seeing someone. About the prospect of going on medication, if necessary, and how scary it was. About feeling down, feeling blank, feeling like life wasn’t worth it. Frankly, if not for the beer, I doubt I would have been able to manage it. These conversations can be as hard to have for the receiver as they are for the giver, especially when you two are close.

What was palpable, however, was how incredibly cathartic it was for them to get it out there. To admit to someone outside of their GP, psychologist or parents that they weren’t having a great time, and they hadn’t been for a while, and it was starting to really get to them. It’s incredible how heavy stuff will seem to float away the second you hear it come out of your mouth.  They say a conversation can change a life, which is true. Failing that, it can also just make life more bearable. Which, if you’re stuck in a funk, can make one hell of a difference.

Regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas or not, the holidays are an exceptionally difficult time for your mates who have lost someone, or perhaps lost a bit of themselves. There’s a lot of time with not much happening. The big life event might have been a while ago, but that doesn’t mean everything is peachy up there. Think about your friends you haven’t been in touch with for a while. Chances are, they’re great. But just in case, the great thing about conversations is that they’re the cheapest present going around.

Screw the gift-wrapping. Pick up the phone.

- Jonno Seidler.

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