Triple M host Gus Worland's Man Up takes a hard look at male suicide

Australia, the land of the larrikin who loves his beer, sport and never talks soft. Got a problem? Then harden the hell up. That's the myth, anyway. The reality is a lot more distressing, with around 2000 Australian men committing suicide every year.

That's around 75 per cent of all incidences and it soars in regards to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men. This silent killer is exactly that, something men are reluctant to talk about, unwilling to show their vulnerability in a society they believe expects them to take it on the chin.

Gus Worland, host of Triple M's Grill Team and father of three, was stunned when his best mate Angus, who he saw as the typical stoic Aussie bloke, killed himself ten years ago. "In my head, I thought someone that would take their own life wouldn't be coping very well outwardly," he says. "In hindsight, that was obviously completely wrong.

"Angus was the most charismatic, successful man. Anything that needed to be done he always seemed to find a way. He was just a dealmaker and the life of the party. All the girls and the blokes loved him. To me, he was like the perfect man."

Worland was so shocked on hearing the news he even went to the police suspecting foul play. It took him almost a decade before he could discuss Angus' death with his widow Penny and her daughter Lucy.

The silent killer

That emotional breakthrough is just one of many gob-smacking moments in Worland's incredible three-part ABC TV series Man Up, in which he tackles harmful male stereotypes and the effect they have on society head on, all the while trying to figure out a way to get men talking to each other about how they really feel.

"That just broke the shackles for me and since filming, Lucy and I have gone on walks together for Lifeline and become really close-knit again," Worland says.

Shooting Man Up over 61 days, Worland saw the same pattern amongst men over and over. "We're very comfortable in the banter-land of sport, work and weather, but as soon as we get away from that blokey stuff, then for some reason we have a real problem. I think that's why we don't have these proper conversations, because we never quite allow ourselves that awkward stage."

Showing your emotions as a strength, rather than a weakness, is what Man Up is all about. Worland goes about meeting the men spreading that message from boardrooms to farmyards, construction sites to schools. It takes him to a Lifeline call centre and to mental-health research outfit the Black Dog Institute. They show him pioneering research indicating stereotypically valued male traits like stoicism, self-reliance and buttoned up emotions are, in fact, very harmful.

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Community efforts

But it's the everyday guys trying to make a difference that really make the show. Construction worker Steve Toyer turned his own darkest hour into worksite support network Mates in Construction, teaching tradies to look out for one another and stick their hand up if feeling down.

Wagga Wagga farmer John Harper stared down depression during the drought. With suicide rates much higher in remote and regional areas, he set up straight-shooting men's shed group Mate Helping Mate. Worland also meets ex-servicemen supporting each other, with more Australian veterans having died by their own hand than in war since 1999, and even finds time for a spot of (almost) naked yoga.

Along with his sit down with Penny and Lucy, one of the most powerful moments comes in episode two when Worland asks personal development coach Tom Harkins to run a masculinity workshop for his son Jack and his schoolmates.

"My son calls it the best day of education he's ever had," Worland says. "Being brave enough to be yourself and realise under the surface you've got real emotions that need to be discussed and understood so you can cope better, rather than just going around with this bullshit bravado all the time."

A new generation of men

Training to become a Lifeline call centre operator and hosting charity events for the organisation, Worland hopes getting the message across to young men early can stop male mental health from being such a taboo subject in this country. He believes there's plenty of scope to change older minds set in their ways too.

"I really think the show will make a difference," he says. "I'm so proud of it. I've learnt so much myself; I'm a better father to my son because of it. As a dad I'm softer than my dad was with me and hopefully that will filter through. It's just the right way to bring up a young boy, to let them be a bit vulnerable and a bit uncertain, for it to be OK to ask questions and to have a cry if they want to."

Man Up will screen on ABC1 from Tuesday, October 11 at 8.30pm and will be available on ABC iView. For more info, go to www.manup.org.au