There is power in vulnerability’: How five high-profile Australian men manage their mental health
Movember, the movement designed to change the face of men’s health, is coming to an end for the year. But the stats around men’s mental health remain: one in 10 men around the world lives with an anxiety disorder; in the last decade, there has been a 30 per cent rise in the number of Australian men dying by suicide; and every 60 minutes, 60 men around the world are lost to suicide.
Five high-profile Australian men talk about how they navigate their mental wellbeing and the pressure to appear bulletproof.
‘There is power in vulnerability’
Nedd Brockmann knew the crash would come. He might only be 23, but this was not his first rodeo. Brockmann has become the pin-up for many Australians following his awe-inspiring 3953-kilometre run from Cottesloe Beach to Bondi in 47 days, raising a cool $2.5 million for homeless charity We Are Mobilise along the way.
Just two years ago he completed another mammoth run: 50 marathons in 50 days, also to raise money for those experiencing poverty. The high that came with achieving such a feat made the tradie from Forbes feel invincible.
“I started doing ridiculous runs because I felt I was Superman and I got injured, and I’d never, ever had to deal with an injury that would stop me from doing the one thing I wanted to do.”
The frustration sent him spiralling into body image issues and negative thoughts, he says.
Today, Brockmann is better equipped to ride highs and lows.
“Running across the country, it’s just a high,” he says. “When I’m Nedd Brockmann being the bloke who’s running across the country, I feel like I’m the most powerful man on earth. It felt like I could take on the world.”
Now he is once again unable to run as his body repairs itself from the multiple injuries he sustained, and he has lost the sense of power running gave him.
“When you can’t move like you were before … you’ve got to sit with your thoughts,” says Brockmann, who says of his body “everything hurts”. “You can’t just exercise it off … when you go cold turkey on something you’ve been doing for 47 days, eight hours a day, it just f—s with you a bit.”
Brockmann, who participated in the Movember fundraiser event co-created by his physio Alex Bell [Mo]re than a Run last year, says journaling helps him, as does good food, music and talking about how he feels to the people he loves. Reframing his perspective also helps.
“It’s changing the narrative and, and being like, ‘well no, I’m actually lucky to be here’,” he says. “It’s fine to appreciate you are not well or if you’re not OK, but it’s being grateful too.”
Brockmann says his motto is to keep showing up each day “because it’ll get better”.
“I’m tough as hell and I can show up each day and keep fighting, but I’m also happy to go ‘I don’t feel good today’. I think there’s power in vulnerability.”
‘There was a bit of imposter syndrome’
There was a time when Paul Tinkler felt that, as a leader, he had to appear bulletproof.
The Australian vice-president of Lululemon, which is partnering with Movember for its third year, wanted to instil a sense of security and confidence in his team by not showing vulnerability.
“There was a bit of imposter syndrome of ‘I have never led a business of this size and I need to show up in a certain way to show I’ve got it’,” says the 44-year-old father of four. “I often feel that pressure of being pulled in a lot of different directions and trying to do all of those things at a hundred per cent.”
He soon realised trying to project an image of infallibility and trying to be all things to all people “isn’t healthy” and, at times, results in him feeling burnt out and overwhelmed: “I regularly get to a place where I need to stop and step back.”
Prioritising sleep and creating boundaries around his time helps, as does exercise.
“If I’ve been able to go for a run in the morning, get home and be with the kids, get them off to school and then jump into a workday, I’ll go into work feeling really good,” he says, adding he has to reorient his routine regularly amidst shifting priorities: “It’s giving yourself a break and knowing that things are going to get in the way [and] you have to constantly reground.”
By showing that he is human and consistently demonstrating that the brand’s commitment to wellbeing extends to its people, himself included, Tinkler says he gives permission for his team to be human too: “What I’ve learned is that leading by example and being bulletproof and showing security can be done differently.”
‘I needed medication to loosen the nuts and bolts in my brain’
Had he got help when he needed it, Osher Gunsberg would have saved years of “causing havoc to myself and people around me”.
But “dangerous” ideas about what masculinity was kept him stuck. Those ideas, says the 48-year-old TV presenter, were “really limiting when it comes to how you express yourself as a man”.
For instance, the idea that needing support equates to weakness. “What bulls—,” says Gunsberg, who has been a “Mo Bro” for four years. “Why would we limit our brothers and fathers and sons to a tiny little bitty narrow lens of operation?”
Without an open dialogue and education about mental health, it can also be hard to realise that it is not who you are.
“When your brain gets into a depressive state, it finds it almost impossible to see things in a positive light, and it kind of automatically reframes everything in a negative light,” says the father of two. “And if you don’t know to question that, you might not realise that you actually have the ability to do something about it and change it. In my case, I needed some medication to loosen the nuts and bolts in my brain, so I could readjust and let the new thinking patterns kind of kick in a bit.”
Gunsberg says he knows that when he stops making eye contact, his breathing becomes shallow and when he starts ruminating, he needs to pay more attention to his wellbeing.
Getting out on his bike and feeling the sun and wind on his face helps him to get back into his body, as does breathing slowly extending each exhalation.
“I also try to make sure that I get enough sleep, which is tough with a toddler who’s dropped his day nap. I take my medication the way my doctors tell me to take my medication,” says Gunsberg, who has been sober for 12 years and eight months. “I make sure that I keep an eye out for automatic negative thoughts or resentments that are building up.
“I understand that thoughts are just thoughts, and we can change our mind. Just because we think it doesn’t make it real or doesn’t make it true.”
‘Leadership is lonely’
Total Tools, the largest trade tool supplier in Australia, might be as blokey as businesses get. And this, along with his own experiences, is why chief executive Paul Dumbrell feels a strong responsibility to champion men’s mental health and change the surrounding conversation.
The former V8 Supercar driver and Bathurst 1000 winner became an ambassador for Movember in 2008 and Total Tools has partnered with the brand for three years.
“Leadership is lonely,” says the 40-year-old father of four children under six. “And the further you go up the corporate chain, the harder it gets. That’s something which you grapple with every day. Your authenticity about who you are and your values and ensuring that you have the right moral compass.”
Dumbrell admits that he has had the tendency to bottle things up. “But as time goes on, you realise that all good things happen from when you talk to people and … being invincible isn’t like a battle scar, where you get an extra star on your shirt.”
And so, though it is a work in progress, Dumbrell – who has set himself a goal of running the Melbourne marathon in 2023 and says reading and exercise are his outlets – tries to admit when he is struggling.
“Vulnerability is hard to show,” he says, admitting he has had a “really tough year” personally after his father died in 2021. “But sometimes small steps lead to great things. It’s a never-ending journey. We all have a long, long way ahead of us to really be open and transparent … but leading by example allows people to open up and feel like it’s OK to feel that way as well.”
‘You need to deal with it’
When the going gets tough, Michael Roth’s first instinct is to accelerate through his life. But it comes with an inability to switch off too.
“It’s easy to get lost in the world of start-ups and business. There’s never a shortage of work,” says the founder of Swysh, the platform which allows people to purchase personalised videos from their favourite sports stars (with 20 per cent of proceeds going to Movember).
Starting the company at the same time as his first child was born in 2020 was a particularly challenging time, as life sped up for the 35-year-old.
“What I remember was just feeling like I didn’t have enough time. That’s hard when you know that there are things that you are not fitting in that you need to make time for. It just throws more onto your plate, and it can weigh quite heavily on you,” says Roth, who recalls feeling overwhelmed.
“You need to deal with it unless you just want to spiral in the wrong direction.”
Though Roth, whose wife is pregnant with their second child, has never battled with severe mental health issues, people close to him have, including one friend who took their own life.
Reaching out to those around him when he needs support helps.
“When you get different perspectives from people, it just helps frame your own perspective,” he says. “It makes you stop and think a little more clearly and just slow down because it’s very easy for everything to just feel super fast.”
Getting outdoors, time away from his device and sleep all help to keep his head above water.
“I try almost every day to get home before my son goes to bed and to be part of the bath and sleep routine,” he says. “It’s like a daily check-in where you’re not in front of a screen and you’re not dealing with a business issue. And it’s also a good reminder of the most important thing to you in life, which is your family.”