Last week, I was walking with a friend through the city and we noticed a guy, probably in his early 20s, sitting on the ground with his head in his hands. His cellphone was next to him, but pushed away from him, just out of reach.
We stopped for a minute to observe and discuss whether we should approach him or not. If we were to, the first question we would have asked would have been “are you ok”?
He could have been sitting there for any reason: maybe he just received some bad news, maybe he was tired, maybe he’d taken something and was a bit out of it. We were hesitant to approach a stranger who wasn’t in obvious physical danger, and after a few minutes he lifted his head and looked off down the street. We continued on our way.
Thing is, it’s far more likely that there are people close to you that have problems. And they’re not necessarily going to volunteer that information unless they get an opportunity.
That’s what RUOK Day is all about, and tonight I’m attending the second annual Vicbears event to mark the day. Last year, it was formal and I was invited over from New Zealand to speak. This year, it’s a more about encouraging connection in an informal setting where guys can discuss what’s happening for them over dinner.
I hope guys will feel comfortable enough to open up, because depression hides in plain sight.
Last night, I started chatting to a guy on Scruff as I took a tram home from dinner with a friend. My profile says I have recently moved to Melbourne, and he sent me a welcome message. I thanked him, and asked him how his week was.
“Fucking awful, but thanks for asking,” he replied.
“That’s no good,” I answered. “What’s going on?”
He said he didn’t want to burden me. This is the first line of resistance you’ll get when asking someone what’s wrong, particularly if you don’t know them.
“It’s not a burden,” I said. “We’re just chatting.”
While he didn’t go into great detail about his situation, it was enough to let me know that he had a number of stresses in different areas of his life and his foundations of strength were being eroded.
Who did he have to talk to? No family, he said, and one friend who he wasn’t sure if he could trust with really personal stuff.
“I just want to sleep for a very long time,” he said, before going on to admit that earlier in the week he had felt suicidal. Simply getting up and pushing through a normal day had to be forced, and the whole time he was beating himself up because such a simple routine felt so hard. He was quick to anger, and the urge to cry was strong.
All of this – invisible.
So many of us have felt like this, so I responded with my own experiences in this area and encouraged him to seek help, suggesting some different things he could try.
Log on to an app like Scruff and a sea of faces will greet you. On current stats, we know that one in five Australians will experience depression this year. We don’t have specific stats for gay men, but we do know from decades of research that gay men are over-represented in depression and suicide statistics the world over.
Today is the day to remember that one of those guys might be sitting right next to you. He might even be you.
Today is the day when we take steps, together, to help each other reach “ok”. And it starts with a conversation.