How men's health was shaped by entrepreneurship
Men’s Health Week is a good reason to take stock of the work we’re all doing, the way we collaborate and the role of health and wellbeing. UTS Startups Inspiration Manager, David Lillo-Trynes, shares his advice about the importance of mental health.
I remember when R U OK? Day began to take off around a decade ago. For everyone unfamiliar, R U OK? Day was started as a once-a-year campaign to get people talking about mental health in an easy, approachable way. It literally put words in your mouth and made it okay to ask others a question with big implications.
“Are you ok”? in an Australian context, means a lot now. It might have been what you said to little kids when they fell over, or what you asked your mate if they’d just been in a car crash. Now, it means “I’m here for you, I’ll listen and I’ll walk with you through whatever it is you’re facing”. It’s almost universally understood here, to mean those things and especially on that one day per year.
The power of entrepreneurship transformed a phrase we all use into a weapon to fight Australia’s leading cause of death in people aged 44 and under. It wasn’t an advanced technology, an algorithm or even rocket science. It was just pure old good ideas, hard work, and a subsequent viral spread.
R U OK? Day now counts celebrities and global brands as their campaigners. Visible outdoor marketing, digital campaigns and grass-roots local events mean almost everyone is exposed to the message. It sees millions of Australians (and others overseas) participate and the brand truly has global influence. The story of R U OK? is an inspiring example of being driven by a “why” and using your resources to achieve the unbelievable.
This is important to me because I am one of those statistics. Poor mental health will affect almost half of all Aussies in their lifetime, and it came for me in 2013. If I hadn’t been living in a country where we had adopted a cultural shift towards talking about our mental health, I might not have been able to access help in time. The fear of mental ill-health and the stigma around those experiencing it was so strong that I refused for a long time to ask for help. Without campaigns like R U OK? Day, I might not have had people to patiently support me and walk me through the stigma of seeking professional help. In some ways, entrepreneurship was part of the reason I was able to recover.
In the world of startups, where we measure our success so brutally, it’s easy to forget that we’re not made of wood. Not a machine to be plugged in and switched on. We’re human - vulnerable, weak, unpredictable and sensitive. Though we push ourselves and each other to work our hardest, to get things done and “build that unicorn” as if we’re not human, or to “Sleep when you’re dead” and “do what no one else will do to achieve what no one else can”. Advisers critique our work, customers reject the product and everything seems to be going wrong. At least it can feel that way sometimes. The highs are high and the lows are low.
Truthfully, in the last couple of years, I’ve worked among the UTS Startups community and what always surprises me is the resilience, creativity supportive community spirit that makes entrepreneurs such interesting people to work with. Carrying each other is what we do. Helping someone find an answer is who we are. Giving time without expecting any in return is in our DNA.
The million-dollar question is: How do we stay a healthy startup community (and just as important in the general UTS community)?
A healthy community ideally, includes a healthy version of you. Not a perfect one.
The answer is, we need to acknowledge both sides of this. We’re remarkable and weak. We’re resilient and sensitive. We can change the world but we’re also someone who needs to be carried sometimes. And while we do all that, we have to be healthy and whole.
This week, we’re thinking and talking about Men’s Health Week. If you want a six-pack, a better workout routine or someone to diagnose vitamin deficiencies, I am not really your guy (on that, there are plenty of incredible startups in our community addressing these things)! Regardless of what week or day it is in the year, I think that for UTS Startups and the wider community, “R U OK? Day” should always be in our language, in our observations and in our actions. We are responsible for all of us getting there.
What makes UTS Startups healthy (as we’ve seen in recent months) isn’t our building at 608 Harris Street, our number of startups or even necessarily just the output we see. It’s the people who are part of it.