A craft beer company in Sydney, NSW has come up with a unique approach to help men connect with each other and start a conversation which may help save a life. Craft Beer Coopery, backed by the team at R U O K?, aims to help “bring mates together over a beer to tackle growing isolation and mental health issues amongst Australians” by offering a craft beer subscription service with the specific goal of encouraging mates to craft a conversation over a beer. While not advocating using alcohol as a means to ‘bury the black dog’, the microbrewery does recognise that having a beer with a mate can be a way to get friends to open up about a range of topics, which may be personal or not. What it aims to do is combat loneliness and isolation that can lead to mental health issues.
Founder of Craft Beer Coopery, Trevor Lowder, has battled mental health issues himself, which in turn has inspired him to help others.
In late 2007, with previously little knowledge of what depression was, Trevor began experiencing severe anxiety attacks and thoughts of suicide that would later be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder, caused as result of watching his brother die of electrocution a decade earlier.
Wanting to help others whilst also spreading his love of good beer, Trevor came upon a solution after crafting a backyard conversation with a neighbour he barely knew.
“While working in the backyard one afternoon, my neighbour Jason stuck his head over the fence and offered up a beer. Over the two hours and two beers that followed I learnt more about Jason’s life than I had in the previous five years that we had been neighbours”, Trevor said.
Research into loneliness:
One in five Australians have never met their next-door neighbours, a recent survey has found. The loneliness resulting in isolation can sometimes lead to depression, anxiety and even suicide. Difficult to spot and often suffering alone, those experiencing mental health issues can feel calling out for help will leave them stigmatised.
Recent research has revealed that feeling lonely can pose a bigger risk for premature death than smoking or obesity.
The Mind Centre’s Pip Andreas caught up with Trevor Lowder to find out more:
- You’ve come through a tough battle with mental illness of your own. What were your symptoms associated with your PTSD?
The symptoms included changes in mood, behaviour, my thoughts and physical being. There were times when I was flat and drained, I was often irritable, anxious and overwhelmed by the smallest of tasks and I’d have difficulty concentrating. Along with that was constantly catastrophising that the worst would come from every situation.
- Did your friends and family notice something was wrong?
They noticed some things and not others. The changes were neither consistent nor always visible, with some days being much better than others.
- Why did you feel you couldn’t talk to the people closest to you?
Initially I had no idea what was happening to me. Previously I had no experience of any form of depression, so I just tried to push on and do my best to ‘control’ my feelings and external behaviour. As it became debilitating, and I struggled to do even do the most basic things like get out of bed or drive to work, I did my best to hide it. I was proud and too scared of what other would think, especially what those closest to me would think- the opinion of those that mattered most.
- Using beer as a way to forge connection between men is a tricky initiative to promote these days. Have there been any concerns raised about promoting alcohol to vulnerable men?
Since the beginning of time men have been drinking beer together. I’m just trying to make that connection more meaningful and encourage the lads, that rather than just talk about the footy, to deliberately go a little deeper and ask a mate how he is travelling in life. It’s more about having a preventative conversation, to help men not spiral to the point of vulnerability. Like many things in life, consumption in moderation key. We certainly acknowledge the negative impact that excessive alcohol consumption can have on individuals, their families and the community. However, we believe conversations do happen over a beer. When enjoyed in moderation this can be a great thing, and the ear of a mate can be a great gift.
- Bonding over a few beers at the pub or club after work used to be a common past-time that kept men in regular social contact with others. What do you think has led to male isolation in recent years?
I don’t think there’s any single reason. The introduction of RBT made a big (positive) impact. The business of life, with both parents working and the kids in so many after school activities is a contributor. There’s also no doubt that technology has changed and challenged that way we communicate traditionally communicated, collaborated and built communities. While it as provided us a means to connect and stay connected with one another easier than ever before, it has also shifted our preference for deep, meaningful connections to short, superficial and, at times, self-centred interactions. Apple has almost single handedly created a generation of men that are more willing to interact with a mobile than a mate!
- Why do you think there is still such a stigma surrounding mental illness?
It’s not hard to understand why there is a stigma. We have always feared what we don’t understand. Also, way too many still view it as a sign of moral weakness instead of complicated diseases of the brain. I like to say mental health is a question of chemistry not character. As a result those suffering from treatable illnesses refuse to come forward for fear of exposure, those that do don’t talk about it and the sad statistics roll on. I’ve found that the more I talk about my experience living with a mental illness the more others open up to me about their own experience.
Statement from Craft Beer Coopery:
The Craft Beer Coopery encourages consumption in moderation and acknowledges the negative impact that excessive alcohol consumption can have on individuals, their families and the community. Conversations do happen over a beer. When enjoyed in moderation this can be a great thing, and the ear of a mate can be a great gift.
R U OK? CEO Brendan Maher agrees that sharing a drink, albeit responsibly, is a really practical way to stay connected with your mates and loved ones. “Having a beer or a glass of wine with a friend can often be a platform for a meaningful conversation. That’s why we’ve provided Craft Beer Coopery with some of our R U OK? drink coasters – to reinforce the 4-Steps to having conversation with someone who might be struggling with life”.
R U OK?Day is a national day of action, held on the Thursday 13 September, 2018.
Every day is the day to start a conversation. Conversation tips and crisis numbers can be found at ruok.org.au
 Relationship Between Loneliness, Psychiatric Disorders and Physical Health ? A Review on the Psychological Aspects of Loneliness https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4225959/