Lads Without Labels
By Esther Mackay
New Zealand has some of the worst statistics in the world when it comes to mental health. The statistics are there for everyone to see, but every day we lose another one of our young men to mental health struggles. Not only that, but we lose three times as many men to suicide as we do women. The importance of reaching out to your mates is not lost on many of us, but I personally find it difficult to know where to start the conversation.
Kiwi blokes are often stereotyped as strong, hardworking lads who are full of banter, however, this mindset means many of our young men can feel like they aren't living up to the expectation of being a ‘real man.’ Telling someone what they should or shouldn't be will always be damaging, which is why Lads Without Labels focuses on dropping the labels and being a ‘real man’ by being your authentic self.
Lads Without Labels is a Christchurch based, university run club centred around creating a safe and welcoming space for our young men to talk about mental health and wellbeing. We decided to sit down and have a chat with the execs at Lads Without Labels to start a much-needed conversation about mental health in our young men.
At what point did you realise more needed to be done for the mental health of our young men in New Zealand?
SAM: For me personally, it was always obvious that men’s mental health needed to be improved. I always struggled to find a way which was actually effective. Mental health is present in everyone’s lives in some capacity, and I’ve often struggled at times myself. One of the first things that gave me inspiration for the club was seeing the success of so many clubs which are improving women’s welfare on campus. I started thinking why a club like this doesn’t exist, especially in today’s climate, where men in New Zealand have the highest suicide rates in their age groups among the world.
Have you had any negative responses in advocating for this cause?
ELLA: We did actually have a few people who said some pretty rude things about why this is just about the mental health of men. But just like we have always said, we ALL have men in our lives that we care about. This particular demographic is extremely vulnerable and subject to mental health issues,and we think the conversation takes a different form to that of women’s mental health.
TAYLA: Not a negative response, but a lack of response from women. I understand our club is directed towards men's mental health, but what kind of world do we want to live in if we continue to create a divide between issues? We can all support men’s mental health, regardless of gender or further divides.
What can friends/family do to support the men in their lives?
ISAAC: It is all about creating an environment where it is more than okay to speak up and talk about how you’re feeling. A bit of banter is all good, here and there, but it is important to look into how your mate is acting, whether there is any difference in the way he is acting, and when this is noticed, bringing it up to them, asking if they are actually okay.
SAM: As said above, making sure that you’re regularly checking in with your mates and making sure they’re okay, more than just a simple “how are you doing mate?” Making sure to keep in regular contact with them, or taking the time out of your day to grab a coffee or just a yarn is such an underrated way of letting your mates know you’re available or that you enjoy spending time with them.
Frequently in New Zealand we hear the phrase “man up” in response to a lot of our young men’s personal/emotional struggles. What do you think of this sort of mindset/attitude?
ELLA: I think this one is really hard because it depends what you define ‘man up’ as. Maybe we need to rethink and redefine‘ manning up’ as being open, honest, vulnerable and supportive.
CONNOR: To me, at the root of a lot of mental health issues, is the way that men hold themselves to a different standard than they would their mates. I’d never tell a mate of mine to “man up” but I’ve told myself that. This is more dangerous because it means that people don’t see the struggle. It’s so important for everyone to be public and really obvious about it being ok to ask for help, especially that guy trying to internalise his whole world.
Understanding that this is a university club, is there anything you’d like to say to those young men out there feeling a little lost about this time in their life?
LWL: It is totally normal to feel a bit lost. It’s okay to hand in an assignment late, or miss a lecture, or have a completely unproductive day. The most important thing is recognising that
it’s happened, and not letting it define you moving forward. It is okay not to be okay. It is even more okay to talk about your feelings without fear. If you don’t have someone to talk to, then
that is what we are here for, please don’t ever feel like you’re alone because we are here to talk it through with you.
You can check out the good people at Lads Without Labels doing great stuff at @ladswithoutlabels on Instagram and Facebook, because we all have men we care about.