When 27-year-old Nick Askelund lost his brother to suicide in 2014, the way that he looked at the mental health of those around him completely changed.

“I knew that Tom was going through some things, but it’s only since it happened that I woke up to how important good mental health is and how many men struggle with it,” he says.

So in 2014, Nick signed up as a member of the Mental Health Foundation’s Golden Runner team for the Auckland Marathon, and raised $5,575 to support our work.

“But my reason for fundraising went beyond just raising money,” he says. “I also wanted to raise awareness and acceptance of mental health issues – to lessen the stigma and let men experiencing mental distress know they can speak to those around them.”

Not too proud to ask for help

Now he’s urging men to speak up about mental health issues and ask for help.

“Men are too proud and stubborn, and too often it just isn’t discussed among blokes my age,” he says. “There is no awareness among Kiwi blokes when it comes to mental health and I think that needs to change.”

“I feel it is important that we take it upon ourselves to start the conversation. Being that initial contact person that others can trust and feel comfortable with is very important if it stops people bottling it all up.”

Open conversations lead to happiness

In his own life, Nick believes being comfortable with who you are, is key to keeping mentally healthy.

“I was always aware of my own mental health, but Tom’s death alerted me to the reality of other people’s mental health issues. Now I’m the first person to bring it into the conversation if I see someone struggling."

Nick’s had positive responses to his new approach.

“Close friends have opened up more about things. They used to be more closed off, but now people are more prepared to talk about feelings. It makes it easier to help people who are struggling. You can look things in the eye more and talk softly about them.”

Nick is adamant no one needs to face mental illness alone. “Speaking out and connecting with a friend could be their [or your] first step toward feeling good once again. Communication is everything." 

Indeed, these were the findings of a survey by the Mental Health Foundation in 2014.