Life in Mind speaks to male mental health and suicide prevention advocate, Glen Poole

Posted 30th June 2020 in General

Glen Poole is the founder of Stop Male Suicide, CEO of the Australian Men’s Health Forum (AMHF), co-founder of Men and Boys Coalition in the UK, and board member at Parents Beyond Breakup

Glen works to increase awareness, knowledge and understanding of men's health issues including suicide, among the health sector, policy makers, the media and the general public. 

As part of Life in Mind’s spotlight on men’s mental health and suicide prevention, and as AMHF’s Men’s Health Connected comes to an end, the team spoke to Glen about his work in supporting male mental health and suicide prevention, key learnings from the Men’s Health Connected summit, and the Stop Male Suicide project. 

The Australian Men’s Health Forum (AMHF) is the peak body for men’s health in Australia. Can you tell us about your core objectives around supporting male suicide prevention and research?

AMHF traces its history back to the first National Men’s Health Gathering held in Melbourne in 1995. When we talk about men’s health we don’t just mean prostate cancer and telling blokes to stop smoking and lose weight, we’re interested in all the things that keep men and boys healthy like work, relationships, our experiences of boyhood and fatherhood, our daily living conditions and our access to male-friendly support services.  

So, we’re the peak body for individuals and organisations working to improve the ‘lives and health’ of men and boys and we’re committed to creating a healthier future for everyone in Australia, men and boys included. One of the key landmarks in our history was advocating for the development of a National Male Health Policy, something Australia has had for 10 years now. 

But, developing a policy is just the starting point, we also need frameworks and mechanism that ensure leadership and ownership at every level of the system. We also need a thriving men's health sector that is encouraged and enabled to collaborate and we need to ensure that both men and the men's health sector have a voice. 

One of the key areas we need this voice is in our work to prevent male suicide. For many years AMHF and others have been advocating for a shift away from our focus on suicide as predominantly a mental health issue, to addressing the underlying social factors that increase men’s risk of suicide, including issues like separation, unemployment, and drug and alcohol abuse.

That’s starting to happen now with the appointment of a National Suicide Prevention Adviser and the gradual shift towards a whole-of-government approach. But there’s a long way to go and I remain concerned and frustrated that the commitments made in the National Men’s Health Strategy 2020-2030 are not yet being applied at a national level to male suicide, despite it being one of the key issues highlighted in the strategy.

I strongly believe that the biggest first step the Government can take is going through the process of developing a strategy or action plan that identifies the specific steps that are needed to tackle male suicide. 

What led you to work in this space?

I was running a men and boys’ conference in the UK 10 years ago and one of the attendees described himself as having walked backwards into the men’s sector. That description really resonated with me. It’s not something I planned, or dreamed of, or trained for or discussed with a career advisor. 

My daughter is about to turn 23 and I trace my involvement in men’s health work back to my lived experience of being an at-home-dad, then a separating dad and for a period of time a suicidal separated dad. 

I’m still passionate about supporting dads of all backgrounds and circumstances to be involved in their kids’ lives and work with organisations like the Australian Fatherhood Research Consortium and Parents Beyond Breakup, which runs Dads In Distress peer support groups. 

But I had a key turning point, about 15 years ago, when I began to understand how the challenges that men face as parents are interlinked with a broad and complex web of gender issues. 

As a loving father you’ll understand I want my daughter to live in a world where gender is no barrier to people living meaningful lives; a world where every individual is just one conversation away from whatever help and support they need. I want that for women and girls, for men and boys, for people of all sexes and gender identities. And the area where I know I can make the biggest difference is for men and boys, so that’s where I focus my energy and attention. 

Tell us about your work on the Stop Male Suicide project?

Stop Male Suicide is a personal project I founded at the end of 2015. It started as a roadshow in 2016, when we visited every State and Territory and brought together everyone we could find who was passionate about preventing male suicide. We built an extraordinary network of people and brought many of them together at a National Male Suicide Prevention Conference at the end of 2017. 

I used to think that the problem I needed to solve was that people didn’t care about male suicide and my job was to convince people to care more. I soon discovered I was wrong. So many people have lost sons, brothers, fathers, uncles and mates. They care deeply about male suicide, they want to make a difference, but often they don’t know how.

We noticed a couple of significant gaps in suicide prevention training. Firstly, the majority of training is gender blind, it doesn’t give people specific skills to work with men. Secondly, the majority of people taking part in training are women. 

So, we created the Stop Male Suicide gatekeeper training, which focuses specifically on spotting men at risk of suicide and generally attracts more men than women. We’ve delivered this training through a number of Primary Health Networks now and will continue to develop this part of our work to make it available to more people and particularly to men who want to know how to look out for their mates. 

Week one of the AMHF Men’s Health Connected summit was themed around mental health and suicide prevention. What have been some of your key highlights or learnings from that week?

In terms of work to prevent male suicide, there’s some good top-down work happening now, particularly through PHNs and the Queensland Mental Health Commission, which has identified men as a target population in its state-wide suicide prevention plan. There’s also a groundswell of grassroots activity, what I call the men’s mental health movement that reminds me of the early days of the Men’s Sheds movement. Yet there seems to be a big gap between these top-down approaches and the bottom-up work that’s driven by men, for men. I feel we need to bridge this gap and start supporting and funding and developing this movement as quickly as possible. Men are showing us that they want to take ownership of the problem of male suicide and we need to do everything we can to help them succeed.  

In your opinion, what actions are required to make male suicide prevention a national priority?

We believe that one of the key actions we need to tackle male suicide in all its complexity is for Australia to develop a national male suicide prevention strategy. The money we invest nationally into suicide prevention is not reaching men in high enough numbers. Of course advocates always want to see more investment, but for me the key question is where are we directing the money, not how much we are spending.

In terms of research, I’d like to see complete transparency in where suicide prevention funding is being targeted and what proportion of men and women it is reaching. To be absolutely clear, we don’t want to see any reduction in services towards women but we do want to see transparency about who is being reached so we can start to identify the gaps and target funding at services more effectively. 

Such an approach would enable the Government to fulfil on the commitments made in its National Men’s Health Strategy 2020-2030 which calls on all levels of Government to consciously consider the needs and preferences of men in the services they design, develop and deliver. 

Follow Glen Poole and his work via Twitter.

Learn more about Life in Mind’s spotlight on men’s mental health and suicide prevention here.