Callum on sharing the stories of struggles we all face

8 min

A journalist by trade and founder of the Young Blood Men’s Mental Health podcast, Callum, 30, is dedicated to sharing the stories of men under 40 and their struggles, emotions and life lessons, to show that no matter what we go through we’re not alone. The podcast is a preventable health strategy that promotes community mental health awareness and seeks to increase mental health literacy through shared lived experience.

I lost a good friend to suicide in 2019. That changed my view of the world, and I began to recognise how common mental health struggles are. I thought, what if we could talk about mental health and share our stories, rather than going to more funerals and saying, “Oh, I wish I’d known” or “we never knew about the extent of what was going on”? Hopefully, fewer people would make that permanent decision to a temporary problem. More people would understand that no matter who you are, you’re not alone, there’s always hope, and we share similar struggles. We can all find a way to get through them and there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

That’s what inspired me to start the Young Blood – Men’s Mental Health podcast. I’ve been running it for nearly five years, and in that time have shared the lived experience stories of close to 200 men from all around Australia. Guests on the show range across a diverse spectrum of backgrounds, demographics and circumstances, enduring backgrounds, enduring the whole gamut of traumas and challenges, all bravely sharing what they’ve been through and learned along the journey for the purpose of showing others they’re not alone and there’s always hope.

The podcast regularly discusses common vices that can quickly spiral into destructive habits and damage our mental health, for men particularly, drinking, drugs, gambling and porn are the biggest culprits.

“The podcast regularly discusses common vices that can quickly spiral into destructive habits and damage our mental health, for men particularly, drinking, drugs, gambling and porn are the biggest culprits.”

You’d be hard pressed to find a human being who isn’t fighting some level of internal battle between the best and worst version of themselves as we go through life, and it’s the effects of our habits compounding over decades that ultimately define us.

Whether it’s a habit we know is bad for us, but think can control, or a full-blown addiction we’re at the mercy of, in the moment it seems like these behaviours make things better and take us away from our problems, but in reality they do the opposite, making everything worse.

Many of these behaviours are normalised in Australian culture and as individuals it can be difficult to judge where the line is between just trying to have some fun and having a problem. Everyone’s different, and a behaviour that some might seem impervious to, can totally consume others. Some people can have a few drinks and leave it at that. Some can put on a bet and not put on another one straight after, others just can’t, and it’s important to learn that about ourselves. Part of being a good mate is understanding these differences in the way we’re wired and encouraging the better nature in our friends, rather than enabling their destructive tendencies.

Often we have to go on a journey of self-discovery to work out what’s underneath the surface causing us to act in certain ways and what you could do instead that would deliver a better result for you and those you care about. It’s a gradual and sometimes painful process of building that self-awareness, building discipline and ultimately being able to value, love and trust yourself and say, “I’m not going to be dictated to by what other people say, or the devil on my shoulder, because I know what I’m like and what I need to be able to thrive and I’m going to prioritise that because I deserve better and so do the people I love.”
I’ve been very fortunate to provide a platform to help share the incredible stories of so many men who’ve hit rock bottom, been so down and out they never thought they’d come back, loathed themselves, hated what they saw in the mirror and lost all self-respect. But by just giving themselves a chance, taking responsibility, taking action and opening themselves up to letting others in, they’ve managed to build themselves up into people they didn’t imagine they could be, and in a relatively short amount of time.

That’s a big message we try to get across, that no matter how bad it might seem, there’s always a way back and there are always things you can do to improve your life. It’s not about being perfect, it’s just about trying your best, picking yourself back up, owning your struggles and wanting to be better and that’s the kind of culture that we’re trying to encourage.

I’ve lived many of the things that I discuss with guests on the show, as I too am a young man navigating the complexities of living life. I’ve experienced the destructive potential of reckless behaviour firsthand. I’ve been naïve and impulsive and fortunate to escape harm and part of the reason I love interviewing other young men is I learn so much I can apply to my own life and I hope all those who listen can as well. At the end of the day it’s up to each of us to look after ourselves and be force for good and we can do a lot to help each other achieve that.

Once you’ve recognised what behaviours aren’t working for you, you’ve got to replace it with something positive. I’ve heard this in therapy and from so many of my podcast guests. Abstinence in isolation isn’t the answer. Giving up destructive habits to try to better your life can leave you with a lot of free time, change your social life and leave you feeling really bored. Say you’ve stopped drinking or going out partying, it’s no good just sitting at home on the couch doing nothing, you’ve got to find ways to stimulate your mind and body and connect with others that aren’t going to do you harm.

Exercise is a huge one. Creating something, putting effort into a passion project, finding new hobbies or going back to doing activities you used to love. Go and volunteer or find a community where you share genuine interests and don’t have to be intoxicated or put yourself at risk in some way to get that stimulation. We’ve all got to find outlets that will deliver you those endorphins, a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging. Build up a new identity around those positive behaviours, rather than just trying to avoid the negative ones at all costs.

One of the main messages that we try to get through to people is that you’re going to be a much more effective man, if you develop that self-awareness to know yourself and be honest about your mental health. Find the courage to open up to someone when you’re struggling, whether that’s someone close to you, or even someone on the phone at Lifeline. It doesn’t matter how strong you are, no one can thrive in life without support and none of us should feel as though we have to.

“When it comes to mental health, we’re witnessing a huge cultural shift in the past decade, which has become increasingly visible in the public domain since 2020. There’s a lot more awareness and acceptance of mental health issues, and slowly we’re moving towards treating mental health the way we treat our physical health, as something that has to be actively maintained and not bottled up inside us.”

When I was growing up it was something that was never spoken about, it was like there used to be two categories – there was those who were mentally ill and everyone else who was ‘fine’, with no in between. For men especially, the harden up, stiff upper lip, don’t talk about it, get on with the job mentality was certainly more pervasive than it is now. We weren’t seeing all these examples of men who are both masculine and able to show their vulnerability.

It’s easy to get dismayed and feel like we’re not getting anywhere because we still hear about how bad the suicide statistics are. But I just think how much worse would it be if we weren’t having these conversations? The change we’re aiming for is generational, it’s going to take a lot of time and effort, but there’s no doubt in my mind that we’re making great strides and while it’s devastating that we’re losing so many people every day, there are many others who are being saved, saying “not today”, and turning their lives around. The boys and men of today and tomorrow will lead more open, emotionally in touch and mentally healthier lives than those before them and that will make for a better world.


Masculinity and health
Mental health

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