Last month I sat down on the couch to watch a documentary on the ABC called Man Up. I was intrigued by the idea and wanted my husband to watch it with me.
I had a personal agenda.
My darling husband was diagnosed with depression at the age of 18 and it’s been a constant battle for him his whole life. I am in awe of his courage and determination and ability to manage this illness. I know it’s not easy for him. Many days I wish that I could take away his pain and the anxiety that surrounds it. I know he has dark days and thankfully this is something that we work on together. I know sometimes I don’t do enough, in fact, I think many of us could be doing more, one such person who agrees with me is Gus Worland.
As many of you know, I grew up in regional Australia where stories are shared about men driving out to the back paddock, taking their dog and shotgun and never coming back. A few years ago I lost an old school friend. The truth is we have an epidemic of male suicide in Australia where 8 of our men take their lives every single day.
I sat down with Gus last week in the MMM studios where we talked about his Legacy Project Man Up, his mission to save our blokes and the incredibly personal experience that inspired the series.
Where did the inspiration come from to create Man Up? In particular, what was the feeling behind your intention?
My mate Angus Roberts took his own life, just over 10 years ago. When Angus died I went to the police and said, “There’s no way that he could’ve taken his life.” I thought someone or something else must have been involved. I just couldn’t believe he’d done it. The copper took me aside and said, “Mate get your head around it. There’s nothing here that looks suspicious, I think your friend has taken his own life and that’s what I’ll put down in my report.”
Angus was a hero to me. This awesome, untouchable, always positive guy. The kind of guy you went to for answers. For a long time, I lived with the feeling of why, why, why? Then that feeling turned to anger so I decided to find out why. Why did he take his own life?
Angus was brilliant at hiding his true feelings and like many men wore a mask. I spoke to his wife, daughter and other friends – they said he was depressed. He was drinking too much alcohol and self-medicating. He felt he was losing his manhood. The one thing he held onto was the fact that he was the absolute ‘go-to-guy’ for most people. He felt he couldn’t show any weakness. That if he did, he’d have nothing left that was positive in his life. But I didn’t know any of that. Once I educated myself I realised I was so wrong. And you can be so wrong about people because you have this ideal of who they are. Most of the time, people are putting on a bit of front. Especially Aussie males who… well, we’re just great at bullshitting aren’t we? We are great BS artists!Many blokes are unwilling to have a conversation with a friend or family member for fear of being judged or appearing vulnerable or weak.Click To Tweet
Do you think this is a cultural or environmental epidemic?
I didn’t know it but I can see it now. I spoke to some advertising people who said, “Our life is built around getting blokes like you to buy X product, whatever it may be”. The reality is it’s just a bunch of nerds, sitting around a table thinking, ‘How can we trick them now?’ Once I got my brain around it, I realised well that’s all they’re doing. Then it made sense to bash my head against them to try change it. It’s very difficult because there is so much money involved, and very hard to change a stereotype that’s been drilled into us for years and decades.
Do you feel like you’ve achieved what you set out to with Man Up?
Man Up surpassed my expectations and during filming, I realised I was just getting started. It wasn’t until I actually sat down and watched the series that I thought ‘Ohhh’ I think we’re onto something here.
I decided to send the series to my best mate Hugh Jackman and another friend I trust completely. They both came back within a day saying that they only intended to watch the first episode, but they’d watched all three. Hugh said to me, “This is the best thing you’ve ever done. This is going to change lives.”
Was that piece of validation a catalyst for you to take on this mission?
A part of me thought, I’m a little unworthy to take this on.
So many people who have given and volunteered their entire lives to this cause, they might be better suited.
But you give a voice to the voiceless every day.
I suppose so. But what I talk about on MMM is such candy-coated rubbish. It’s fun, I enjoy it. I’ve been waking up at 3.30am for 8 years! Of course, there are days we think we’re making a difference to the people on the M5, giving them a laugh for an hour. But this is real stuff. There are real lives at stake here and it’s so important. Professor Helen Christensen from the Black Dog Institute commented on the documentary saying, “I’ve got 20 PhD’s, but I couldn’t do what you did, give the emotion you gave…”
When you were filming did you think I’m going to do what no other man is doing in Australia, I’m going to show my emotions? For me and I’m sure everyone who’s seen Man UP, that’s what took it to the next level, the raw emotion you shared brought it to life.
I didn’t actually ever think that in my head or try to work it out.
Looking back, I’m so proud of the fact that I just gave myself completely to it. When you’re sitting there talking to Steve on the building site, and he’s doing the best that he can battling his own demons and he’s trying to help all these other people, it’s overwhelming.
The other night I sat with 33 dads from St Lucy’s School in Wahroonga. The school community recently experienced a family murder-suicide. The fathers were angry because they felt they didn’t pick up on the signs that there was something wrong with the father who committed the act. They invited me to talk about Man Up and open up a conversation amongst them. We talked, there were tears and emotions. Afterwards, all of them shook my hand telling me that they all felt so much better. Driving home I thought, maybe I can make a difference.
So what’s your next step?
I’m desperate to talk to the ABC about the next series. We’ve got to have a Man Up type show every year, so that we can keep the conversation going.Blokes in remote areas are nearly one and a half times more likely than city blokes to experience depression.Click To Tweet
What’s been a highlight so far?
The fact that 41 million people have now seen the Man Up TV commercial. That was sort of the finishing point where we wanted to go, what legacy can we leave? And 41 million people have decided that’s a pretty cool thing. That was great.
We’ve now launched Man UP worldwide for free, which I’m very proud of. We’re not putting DVDs out and asking for $29.95. If you want to watch it, all you need to do is go to a website or YouTube station. We’ve made it accessible for everyone.
The people who I made the show with are now lifelong buddies. I don’t think I could do another show like this without that crew. I already know the director, producer, cameraman, audio guy.
We’re all learning as we go along and shedding tears together. There were a lot of moments travelling around Australia where we collectively thought, this is not just ‘bs’ TV which a lot of us are involved in all the time, this is actually real.
What’s been the greatest challenge?
I take on every story, every interview myself. So I’ve been a little bit sick in my own mind and body. I’ve got this lady I see once a week, and I feel better for that. But these stories are so incredibly inspiring and sad and emotional. I find it really hard to let it go. She’s trying to teach me that it’s fine to be there at the moment. Just like we are now having an intense conversation. But I’ll worry about it later if I got this right. Rather than just thinking, “I said what I said, move on.” I need to get rid of all the emotion that sits on my chest and in my heart.
You’re empathy is your greatest strength.
It’s my Kryptonite as well. I sort of feel that I haven’t quite learned to deal with it yet.
Can’t you see that you’re in perfect balance? You can’t have great connection without great feeling?
Exactly! If I wasn’t completely committed and loving it, then I wouldn’t have that issue. I realise it’s part of the work. I’ve educated myself so much over the last year to the point that I’m a much better person. I’ve got tools in my kit bag and a profile in the industry. I just have to keep moving forward. But we have a huge challenge in raising awareness. We’re losing 8 males a day in Australia. Now if that happened on the roads, they’d ban cars. We talk about the road toll being 300-400, it’s a horrific number, but we’re times ten!
I’ve called the health minister 200 times, and all her assistants. They’ve seen the show, but apparently the minister is too busy to talk to me. I’m not accepting that bullshit anymore. We need to have a face to face. We need to have his conversation I need her help, I need her to get it out there!For blokes, a huge barrier to help-seeking is the stigma attached to mental health.Click To Tweet
I know there are a lot of initiatives developed to bring awareness to men suffering from mental illness but what’s next? What can we do to create one voice?
That’s what I want to talk to the Health Minister about. It seems so simple, we all have the same philosophies and care factor, so why is it all of us are splintered and not together? We’ve got RUOK day and Movember which are brilliant. But they’re not linked. We can’t continue to do that because the problem is getting worse, we have to change what we’re doing.
I think it could be as simple as letting blokes know that it’s ok not to be ok. That’s what I got from the year-long process of Man Up. That’s a pretty simple thing to say. But would your husband come home and say, “Babe I’m feeling absolutely terrible and I don’t know how I’m coping”. The chances of him saying that are really slim.Men today are bombarded by the many roles society tells them to play.Click To Tweet
But there are some days that you need to hear that from him so that you can make him a priority over all else. But he probably won’t give you the information you need to make him feel better, and that’s how all us blokes are the same.
You go to the funerals for these suicides and every person says,” He was the best bloke, I wish I knew. I would have done anything for him”. Sad isn’t it? A thousand people outside a funeral home would’ve done anything to protect him, but he didn’t feel like he could tell anyone how he felt. That’s crazy.
So what’s your great life lesson so far?
I’ve learnt more in the last year than I have in a very long time. At university, a Lecturer told me to, “Keep it simple stupid.” I had a tendency to overcomplicate things, so I’m trying to apply that philosophy to Man Up. Rather than worry about all the science and drama and problems, let’s just make sure blokes can say to someone in their life, “I’m battling here, I need your help”.
That little sentence will trigger a whole lot of other really cool things that can make that person healthy again.
I need to keep my message on men’s health really simple. Not scientific. Not wanky. I think a lot of blokes in Australia might take someone’s advice, but if they think he’s a tosser or a wanker they won’t.
As a Father with two daughters and a son, I knew this issue was important before but I think it’s even more important now. I’m worrying about the blokes my daughters are going to fall in love with and my own son. My mom said from the moment my brother and I were born, she hasn’t slept properly, you know what I mean? I’ve been cruising for a long time letting my wife worry about it all, but now it’s my turn.
A few of my favourite bonus questions with Gus…
- Musician? Michael Buble I have his greatest hits, I have his Christmas album, love him.
- Author or book? My brother Steve Worland http://www.steveworland.com/
- Breakfast? Poached eggs on smashed avo, crispy bacon.
- Mantra or quote? Keep It Simple Silly. It used to be Stupid, but I’m thinking of not saying it that way anymore.
Find out more about Gus Worland:
and Man Up TV:
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So tell me have you had an experience with depression? I urge you to have a conversation with a friend and let them know how you feel. It will take time for us to change the Australian stereotype but it breaks my heart to think how many beautiful Australian men we have lost to this insidious disease.
I was inspired to create this website for this very purpose. To share stories that will make a difference in the lives of others. From my own personal experiences, I know how debilitating it can be to feel depressed, helpless, alone. But the time has come for us to rise up with one voice and change the conversation from the inside out.
Thank you for visiting Your Legacy Project and for consciously choosing to read and absorb these interviews. There is no doubt that at times life can be incredibly difficult and knowing that there are people in the world who are actively trying to make a difference – we will get there. But we need your help. If you have any comments, thoughts or ideas we’d LOVE to hear them please share them by typing in the comments below.
P.S. At the beginning of our conversation Gus shared that he was preparing for a keynote speaking gig. Coupled with the knowledge of this interview and my concept of a Legacy Project he realised that this is what he wants his legacy to be…a champion for men suffering from mental illness. For those of you who know my story around my own professional speaking career and stopping at the highest point to pursue this powerful concept of ‘A Legacy Project’ his words brought tears to my eyes. Listen to your intuition my friends, it will set you free. Bx