Men. We have a problem.
While broadly speaking, mental illness does not discriminate across gender, the tendency to seek help for mental illness does. Men do not seem as willing as women to take healthy action when it comes to their own mental health and wellbeing.
We know that the prevalence of types of mental illness varies across gender – alcohol dependence and suicide is higher in men than women; however, women hold the monopoly on anxiety. Overall, as a species we are suffering from mental health issues at an alarming rate, with mental illness heading towards becoming the leading cause of disability globally.
In recognition of the mental health crisis and the unique needs of men, the Movember Foundation – the moustache growing charity – has been raising and directing funds to projects that will encourage a shift in behaviour and attitude to men’s mental health. They encourage community groups to approach the problem differently, as it seems the current mental health system cannot fully address the growing health crisis.
So how do we engage men differently? One Movember funded project currently underway is MindMax – a digital wellbeing and resilience project – with a focus on Australian men aged 18 to 35 years old and based on the premise that ‘fit minds kick goals’.
MindMax focuses on the places and spaces that men already exist in and engage them in activities and conversations that build mental health and break down the stigma associated with mental illness. The not-so-secret ingredients in this digitial project are sport, videogames and a focus on building mental fitness, rather than alleviating illness.
Majak Daw, Tom Nicholls, Daniel Menzell and Ed Curnow are among a group of elite Australian Football League players who have been involved in the development of MindMax, sharing their experiences and ideas on how to build a fit mind, not just a fit body.
The MindMax app, available for free public download, combines the personal experience of AFL footballers with evidence based mini-training sessions and video game play to help users build, strengthen and maintain healthy and fit minds.
The video game component of MindMax is based on research telling us that video game play is not just good fun but also comes with a host of wellbeing outcomes. The in-app Flick Footy game has been a key engagement mechanism and not surprisingly one of the most popular tabs within the app.
Geelong Cats player Daniel Menzel, who courageously overcame career-threatening injuries, has been involved with the MindMax app throughout the development phase.
“My football career hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing and one thing I’ve learnt through spending a lot of time in physical rehabilitation, is that our minds, just like our bodies, require regular training and can always be improved,” he said.
“Through my ongoing commitment to training my mind, my mental wellbeing and resilience has reached levels I never thought were capable and I’m very proud to be involved with MindMax to help members of the community strengthen their mental fitness.”
Paul Villanti, the Movember Foundation’s Executive Director of Programs, said the support players have shown for MindMax demonstrates the importance of having a fit mind, not just a fit body, to handle the challenges and opportunities life throws our way.
“This app has been developed to support people to take steps to build their own mental fitness. It’s thanks to funds raised by the Movember community we’re able to change the way we think about mental health promotion.,” Villanti said.
And the evidence so far is promising. A few months in to the pilot program and there have been over 4000 downloads and the majority of users, in fact 76%, are men. The impact on wellbeing is still being evaluated but the target audience are responding, with the average user of the app being 26 year old men.
Men. We may have a solution.