‘Always the most unlikely guy’: Worland on mental health
“It’s always the most unlikely guy,” Gus Worland muses. “It’s the guy who’s the life of the party, who people just thought ‘he’s flying in life’.”
We’re talking about male suicide.
Ten years ago, Worland’s life changed tack in a way that “completely surprised” the father-of-three. One of those “unlikely guys”, Angus Roberts, who was one of Gus’ close friends, took his own life.
In shock and inconsolable, Worland started a journey trying to understand why male suicide rates in Australia are so high. Eight men die of suicide in Australia every day, a rate three times higher than for women.
“I honestly think the problem is getting worse,” he says.
It took the Triple M presenter eight years before he could talk about Roberts, but eventually his openness on the often shrouded subject led him to his presenting role on Man Up, the documentary exploring masculinity and men’s mental health that aired on the ABC last year (and is still available to watch on iView).
This journey also led him to start the Gotcha4Life foundation, which launched last week for men’s mental health week. Roberts’ daughter, along with Hugh Jackman and the treasurer of Westpac, sits on the board of Gotch4Life.
While Worland could have been an ambassador for one of the many other organisations doing great work in the men’s mental health space, he says he can control exactly where the money goes and be specific in how he directs it.
“There are lots of women who are willing to give up their time to be counsellors, but we found out that when a bloke rings up Lifeline there’s a whole lot of guys who just hang up – for whatever reason they don’t want to speak to a girl. It’s tragic,” Worland explains.
“So if we train 100 guys up next year and we pay for their training it can be like a Gotcha4Life scholarship… next year we can do that again that until we have that problem fixed and then we can look at the next issue.”
The education of boys is another priority.
“So I want to get Tom Harkins’ school program into as many schools as possible – in schools that can’t afford having it in there. I want to be able to pay that for them and then there’s this pot of money left over for anyone who comes up with a really cool idea.”
Worland doesn’t profess to have all the answers, but he wants to help and he wants to understand. He wonders whether the “life of the party” guy is one whose “whole personality and belief system” is based on what other people think of them.
“It’s the mask we talk about that they can never take off,” he says. “They think no one is going to like me unless I’m the joker, unless I’m the bloke doing the nudie run.
“I’ve sat at many funerals lately and people go, ‘oh, I can’t believe it was him, I never knew and last time I saw him we had such a good time’.”
Although he may not have all the answers, the silent mental health battle men face is one Worland wants to help win. In public it’s getting involved in multiple ventures, on the home front, it’s more simple. It’s honest conversations and man hugs.
“All I’m trying to do is be as kind as possible to the people in my inner sanctum so you get them knowing you’ve got their back, otherwise it’s a pretty lonely old place,” says Worland, who has just returned from a coastal walk and talk with a mate who is going through a rough time. Their walk ended with a cuppa and a man hug.
“A proper conversation ends with a man hug, not a handshake.”
A proper conversation can also provide the clarity and perspective that can get muddied in our own minds.
“I had a situation about five years ago where I was going through some issues. If you looked at my life from the outside, I was working at Triple M, I was doing some TV shows, I had a beautiful wife and three children and all of them were happy and healthy. There was nothing in my life that made me feel like I should be depressed, but for whatever reason I had doubts and anxiety and that led to me feeling down,” Worland says.
“So I just went out there and said, ‘I’m in trouble, I need someone to help me’, and this mate of mine – this bulletproof friend – said, ‘I’ve been seeing a lady for the last three years’.”
The friend put him in touch with his counsellor and he’s been seeing her ever since. He also took his wife to see her.
“If you’ve been married for 20 years, you’re going to have your shit, that’s just the way it is and my wife and I both wanted to fix it,” Worland reveals. “We both went and saw this lady and within about six weeks we were both on the right way to fixing it and in six months we were going, ‘what were we even worrying about’, this was silly to even think we shouldn’t be together.”
Worland has encouraged about 20 mates to see the same counsellor in order to win their own battles.
“Normally you can’t ever get that clarity in your mind unless you’ve shared the problem,” he says. “It’s such a powerful beast, this thing between our two ears, that if we only talk to ourselves we start to go mad. But it takes a bit of guts. I know how awkward it is to tell someone you’re not travelling along well – I get it – but once you do, I promise you that it will help you.”
This article was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.
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