The Playbook For The Modern Man

Barry Du Bois Reveals The Problem With How Australians Think About Mental Health

“People like to put illnesses in boxes [but] there are no square boxes – there are round pegs and square holes.”

Let’s be real: not everything makes as much sense as white sneakers and a navy suit. In fact, sometimes, despite how ‘together’ you look on the outside, you can’t help but wonder what the point is of everything.

The chunk of rock we call home. The ball of flame that will eventually subsume our solar system. The forward-facing camera of an Instagram model’s iPhone.

You get the picture.

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While these thoughts cross most minds at some point, some suffer worse than others, and some are faced with a host more challenges as biological as they are mental – topics scientists (let alone us) are yet to completely understand.

The common feature, however, is that you probably classify these thoughts as ‘issues’, and assume there is something wrong with thinking them.

But the truth is – whether you occasionally stare out the bus window and question the daily mass migration from the city to the suburbs or whether you feel lonely in a crowd – this is not illogical.

The world is absurd. Work is relentless. Sydney’s public transport is a joke.

When you notice this, it sucks – but you are accurately perceiving reality. That is not to say you shouldn’t seek help (quite the contrary – the idea is that in recognising these feelings as widespread people will feel more comfortable talking about them, which is often the first stage to recovery) but it is to say there is nothing wrong with you for thinking them.

It would be bizarre not to worry about the point of life (or not to curse Sydney trains).

Of course, sharing these thoughts and emotions can be hard, especially in a society which has traditionally repressed them, particularly among men. But as individuals like Barry Du Bois and organisations like R U Ok? point out, attitudes are finally (if slowly) changing.

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In a recent exchange with Barry, The Living Room favourite who we have previously interviewed about his battle with depression and who now bravely faces cancer, we asked how to find that balance between pushing yourself to achieve your goals and cutting yourself a bit of slack and recognising when you need to take a moment.

Barry’s sentiment can be summed up in the following line: “I think society has changed a lot over the last two decades – but there’s still a long way to go.”

As for what needs to change on an individual level?

“I feel people like to put diseases and illnesses in boxes. The simple fact is that there’s no square boxes – there’s round pegs and square holes. Health is an individual thing and it’s your own responsibility to understand what is best for your body and your life.”

“One person’s opinion of pressure will be incredibly different to what someone else may think and therefore they will receive that pressure… differently. I believe conversation and human contact is incredibly important, challenging each other with discussion but overall care for each other as a village and community is the best thing for everyone,” Barry adds.

This comes on the back of leading life insurance specialist TAL’s Future of Better Health Event panel discussion, of which Barry says, “Despite the core understanding of health continuing to develop, the underlying principle of ensuring you look after your whole self remains the core way for people to keep healthy.”

“It was great to be part of the panel discussion at TAL’s Future of Better Health Event and understand how TAL is committed to helping Australians live their life through good health by looking after their whole selves – from their physical, mental and financial wellbeing.”

As for helping someone with depression, Barry (in a previous interview) gave us a number of pointers, the first of which is to be wary of giving advice: “When I was depressed, everybody gave me all this advice on books, tablets, health and fitness, and all those things can no doubt be great – but when you mentally feel weak or insignificant, someone telling you what do just amplifies how weak you feel.”

For concerned friends, this means you should keep things simple, and focus on the following.

  • Don’t always try and give a depressed (or potentially depressed) friend advice
  • Ask them a question
  • Listen to them, and empathise
  • Follow up

Barry also points out that helping a mate overcome an irrational train of thought is rarely achieved by pointing out the inconsistencies in what they are saying, but rather empathising, listening and then choosing one of their problems to help with.

“What you need to do is listen and say, ‘I can hear you’ve got a problem: is this something you can handle, or do you need me to help you?’”

And although you may be tempted to recommend a self-help book or podcast, Barry warns that this can give the wrong impression.

“If you say to a depressed person, ‘You’re depressed; you wanna read this book;’ you’re not helping them at all – you’re just saying, ‘I recognise there’s something wrong with you and I can’t help you – but maybe you can help yourself if you read this book.’”

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Instead, follow the strategies outlined above, ask questions, invest time (and emotion), and show that you really care with actions.

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