By Melissa Keogh
A local politician, a surfer, farmer and fisherman are just some of the men who appear in a photographic exhibition that aims to break the stigma around men’s mental health.
About 30 men from across the Eyre Peninsula have been snapped for the Rotary Men’s Wellness Campaign, which aims to encourage men to talk more openly about mental health and life’s struggles.
Port Lincoln photographer Robert Lang took the portraits of the men in their ‘places of wellness’, from farms to fence lines, beaches, boats, cars and veggie patches.
The exhibition is travelling to venues across the Eyre Peninsula until October.
One of the men photographed is Michael Traeger, from the small town of Cummins, who finds solace while on the farm.
Michael, pictured above, tragically lost his wife Kirsty in a car crash two years ago, just months after the birth of their first child, Zac.
Kirsty was passionate about speaking up about mental health and often shared her own struggles with depression and anxiety.
The Rotary Men’s Wellness Campaign is an initiative of Mentally Fit EP.
Michael says carrying on Kirsty’s passion for helping others “means everything” as “it’s keeping a part of Kirsty alive”.
“It became her life ambition to help other people and remove the stigma around mental illness,” he says.
“A lot of people now know of the program (Mentally Fit EP) and know where to get help.
“When she got crook we had no idea what to do or who to talk to. Now the facilities that we have have changed a bit and we’re headed in the right direction.
“We’re giving people more knowledge, and everyone’s starting to talk about it more and have the conversation.”
Michael says the Rotary Men’s Wellness Campaign aimed to break down the shame and embarrassment men might feel when talking about their feelings or sharing their struggles.
“Men are a bit more sheltered about what they share and there is that big stigma with blokes that if they do have a problem they don’t talk about it,” he says.
“We have lost a couple of young fellows over the years to suicide and no one was any the wiser as to what was going on.
“If women are struggling they’ll talk about it, but men won’t. Nine times out of 10 it’s a ‘toughen up’ scenario for men.”
The idea of the men’s wellness exhibition was the result of a “2am brainstorm” of Port Lincoln woman, Jo Clark.
Jo is the CEO of WCYCS and says she believes mental health issues and suicide are not isolated to regional areas.
“The impact is deeper because of the isolation,” she says.
“Regional areas rely heavily on certain economic conditions … if it’s a bad year it’s felt far and wide.”
Not all of the men in the photo exhibition have had experiences with mental health issues.
Jo says that Mentally Fit EP often relied on the local community for funding, with Bendigo Bank and Ramsey Brothers stepping in, while the State Government has also provided funds.
Michael encourages people to check in with friends, family and people in their community and ask if they’re OK.
“Instead of remaining quiet, if you do know someone who is struggling, have that conversation and show them that you care,” he says.
“All it takes is for one person to show that little bit of compassion and they might just save someone’s life.”
The Rotary Men’s Wellness Campaign is showing at Cowell Institute from May 18–31 before moving to Kimba, Lock, Cleve, Elliston, Streaky Bay and Tumby Bay before finishing up in Port Lincoln for Mental Health Week in October.
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