Radio star’s horror phone call
GUS Worland still remembers with a shaking voice, the call he got 11 years ago which changed his life.
He was overseas at the time and received a message that his mentor had committed suicide. It was such unbelievable news that when he got back to Australia he went to the police station to voice his suspicions about the death.
"I thought, no man like that would take his own life," Worland told news.com.au.
Angus Roberts was the man who taught Worland and his friends, including actor Hugh Jackman, how to swim. A "superstar" among the boys he would corral for cricket games and other activities, he was married to Worland's cousin and was a father-figure to the Triple M radio host.
"My father left home when I was about 12 and I loved him but he wasn't that 'traditional' father," Worland said.
"I was always looking for a coach or a father in others. Angus took up that role and he was really influential in making my career. He guided me about girlfriends and when I thought about popping the question to my wife, he was the first to tell me not to do it!
"He was the closest thing to a superhero without a cape and was someone I absolutely adored."
Mr Roberts was 53 years old when he took his own life and the news floored Worland, who was in his late 30s at the time.
"I just couldn't believe it," Worland said. "Now I realise, with education, he was exactly the type of guy who takes their own life."
The shock of his mentor's death never left him and it still makes Worland emotional more than a decade later.
Back then, there was a stigma attached to suicide and it wasn't publicly talked about. Worland didn't even think he had permission to talk about such a personal matter until Mr Roberts' wife climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for Lifeline in 2015 and suddenly the silence around it was shed.
Worland, 49, spoke about his mentor's death as part of the documentary series Man Up and last year launched a not-for-profit aimed at tackling men's mental health issues, called Gotcha4Life.
Co-founded with Gareth Pike, the organisation encourages men to identify their close friends and to have conversations with them about their problems.
"You could be going along and everything is absolutely fine, then you get hit by something out of the blue that can totally shake you to your foundations," Mr Pike said.
"Everybody gets struck somehow, whether it's losing your parents, your job, your partner or something happens with your kids. If you've got that person, they can bounce you back into a more positive state."
The approach aligns with research that has found around 80 per cent of male suicides are not linked to any mental health diagnosis according to Glen Poole, development officer at the Australian Men's Health Forum and founder of the Stop Male Suicide project.
Instead many men are simply struggling to deal with different types of life crises including relationship breakdowns, work issues, financial stress, health issues and other problems.
Worland said six men every day take their own lives and it was the number one way to die if you are a man aged 15-44.
"It's a national disgrace and I'm doing everything in my power to get those numbers down," he said.
"There is a real thirst from men to find out how to be better men, to be good husbands and sons. Our fathers unfortunately weren't given that emotional toolkit and our generation probably haven't either. Our sons will perhaps teach us about how to be more emotional and not to bottle everything up."
Gotcha4Life helps fund school programs for young men, the training of male counsellors for Lifeline and runs workshops for men to get together and talk about what's going on in their lives.
One recent event in Sydney saw more than 200 men turn up.
"It's a myth that men won't talk - you just need to provide a safe environment," Worland said. "You can't just say 'talk'."
He said it was amazing to watch men get up at the event and speak, others cried and comforted speakers, or simply listened in respectful silence.
"We are all so busy running around, being heroes and you've got the mask and the armour on, you're out there battling away all day. No one wants to open themselves up but if you do, it can do wonders," he said.
"Surely it's OK not to be OK? To not have the answer? To open up about a situation that's dark? Surely that's a message we should tell men in our country."
Mr Pike, who also lost a friend to suicide, believes formalising a close friendship during the good times can make it easier to reach out when something bad does happen.
Although it can seem embarrassing, Mr Pike said even just asking a friend to go for a coffee and then bringing up the concept of Gotcha4Life could help get the conversation started.
"Now that you can put a name it, you can discuss it as a concept. I've literally said to my mate, 'You're it,'" he said.
This also lets your mate know that they can call on you when they are going through a hard time.
Mr Pike said the first thing men should do is think about whether they have someone they can speak to about more personal issues.
"We can all be surrounded by mates, they can be close mates or just ones you hang out at the footy with. But it's unusual to have someone you can properly confide in," he said.
"The first step is identifying whether that person is someone you should have in your life. Then decide who among your friends can be that person, because it's not everybody.
"If you don't have someone like that in your group of friends, maybe you need to find one."
Worland said having someone to talk to when times got tough, had helped him to manage stressful or emotional situations in the past. He said it was essential for every person to have someone in their life they can talk to "warts and all" and know they won't be judged.
"That person may not have an answer but you will have their heart and their ear, and it will allow you to get stuff off your chest.
"If you've got a soulmate who's a wife, a mate or girlfriend, talking to her is wonderful but a lot of men find it difficult to be vulnerable in front of anyone, let alone a woman," Worland said. "That's why we have a focus on men supporting men."
If you or someone you know needs support with their mental health, please contact one of these support organisations:
• Lifeline 24/7: 13 11 14, www.lifeline.org.au
• Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467, www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au
• MensLine Australia: 1300 78 99 78, www.mensline.org.au