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Active Breed Program – helping to improve men’s mental health

“Men don’t cry. Men are tough. Men are strong.”

The old ways of thinking about men and emotions are so deeply entrenched in our society that it’s no wonder that when men encounter feelings of helplessness, depression and anxiety, they bottle up the issues. Not wanting to be seen as “soft”, they battle on causing unnecessary suffering, not only to themselves, but to those around them.

In fact, one in eight men will experience depression and one in five men will experience anxiety at some stage of their lives.1

Knowing this to be the case, the Active Breed program, an initiative of Western Sydney University in conjunction with South West Sydney Primary Health Network (SWSPHN) and Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs, ensures that teaching men about mental health is an integral part of their 12 week program which also includes physical exercise and education on weight loss.

Mental Health Manager, Christopher Jones, who provides the mental health component of the program aims to equip participants with practical tools to acknowledge and combat stress and emerging mental health issues and importantly, to instil confidence in knowing where and how to seek help if needed.

“Just knowing when things aren’t travelling well and being proactive in doing something about it is a huge issue for men right across the country and while I believe it is something we are getting better at, we still have some work to do,” Jones said.

“Active Breed provides a great avenue to increase mental health literacy, develop individual and peer support strategies and become familiar with the great mental health services offered in South Western Sydney.”

Mental Health Manager, Christopher Jones, presents information about mental health to the Active Breed Program participants.

The Active Breed program was first run as a pilot study in 2018 by the University of Western Sydney and included 47 men aged between 35 and 64. While the program dedicates 10 of the 12 weeks to physical fitness, the  mental health aspect of the program was also extremely well received by participants.

Dr Emma George, Senior Lecturer from Western Sydney University and lead investigator of the program explains that the 2018 results showed an improvement in participants’ psychological distress.

“The mental health component resonated deeply with the participants and provided an opportunity to be open about mental health challenges, building a strong sense of trust within the group,” Dr George said.

“Men continued discussions about mental health with their families and mates and reported feeling more confident in starting conversations about mental health and knowing how to provide support.”

John, a participant of the 2018 program, agrees, “This program is not just about weight loss. It is about breaking down some of our long-held views that can inhibit personal growth.”

This year, the program recruited 58 participants giving more men a chance to challenge their own views about mental health.

Indeed, it is these long-held views that need to change and programs such as Active Breed are helping to make these changes.

 NB: This year the program recruited 58 participants and data collection is currently underway. 

  1. Mental health of Australians 2 at:

By Linda Music