It's a Health Matter, Darling.
FINALLY! Science is finally pointing in the right direction and backing up what blokes have known for ages - we need a few at the pub to ensure we don't go bonkers. An Oxford University study has found that people who meet regularly at their "local" for a few schooners "are more socially engaged, feel more contented in their lives, and are more likely to trust other members of their community". Conversely, "those who did not have a ‘local’ had significantly smaller social networks and felt less engaged with, and trusting of, the communities within which they were embedded". The full paper can be found here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40750-016-0058-4.
On the University of Oxford news site (http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2017-01-06-your-health-benefits-social-drinking), the study's lead researcher, Professor Robin Dunbar, was quoted as saying: "Our social networks provide us with the single most important buffer against mental and physical illness. While pubs traditionally have a role as a place for community socialising, alcohol’s role appears to be in triggering the endorphin system, which promotes social bonding. Like other complex bonding systems such as dancing, singing and storytelling, it has often been adopted by large social communities as a ritual associated with bonding."
Humans have been producing alcohol across most races and cultures for thousands of years, archaeological evidence showing fermented beverages were being consumed at least 9000 years ago (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/02/alcohol-discovery-addiction-booze-human-culture/). I just think there's something in that. Why is it so enduring? Certainly not because of the negative aspects of alcohol abuse. Alcohol has been used for everything from a right slosh-up to medical purposes to religious rites. Okay, so by now, I'm probably sounding like an absolute sot.
Let's be clear, nobody is suggesting you should head out and get plastered a few nights a week, just to be extra healthy. But I'm a firm believer there is a reason social gatherings around a few drinks have been central to communities throughout human history. I believe men, in particular, need this interaction to compensate for their general lack of meaningful communication and tendency to 'shut up shop' when suffering. Furthermore, I believe that changes in what's expected of a man these days (both personally and socially) have impacted significantly on the average bloke's ability to catch up for a couple with mates, leaving men increasingly isolated from those who provide effective social support. I feel this is a true factor in the alarmingly high rate of male suicide, which is three times higher than the suicide rate for women (https://www.lifeline.org.au/about-lifeline/lifeline-information/statistics-on-suicide-in-australia). But let's also note that, while much lower, female suicide has risen 26% in the last 5 years. As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, "Suicide is the leading cause of death among women aged between 20 and 34 years old. The suicide rate is highest among women aged 40 to 44 years old ...". Given those age brackets, one wonders whether modern changes to womens' roles is also impacting here. That said, a telling statistic from Lifeline, that may also account for the lower numbers in female suicide is, despite men accounting for three times more suicides, more than 60 per cent of callers to Lifeline are women and almost 80 per cent of users of their online chat service are women. Women reach out, men don't. (http://www.smh.com.au/comment/the-rate-of-female-suicide-is-on-the-rise-and-we-need-to-better-understand-why-20151201-glcy5m.html)
This gets back to my point about men generally being terrible communicators, particularly when suffering. But my beliefs aren't just based on stats and studies. More than anything, they're based in the real world. As I said, I'm not a sot, I actually came to alcohol quite late in life. I was a total non-drinker until past 30 years of age. I blame my Scottish roots, because it was whisky that flicked the switch in me (it's like getting a hug from the inside). What I found once I started sharing a couple of drinks was that I felt like I had missed something. Not the drink itself, getting hammered, or any of the silliness abuse can bring, but the ritual closeness and commonality sharing a few brought. I felt as if all those years of abstinence had simply seen me waiting outside the fair getting a vicarious tingle, but lacking the ticket to really live the experience. When I suffered my first bout of severe depression, this really impacted me. My isolation was truly desertous. Yes, I had friends and family, but my friends weren't those I regularly met with anymore, we'd started moving all over the place, and family-wise I was the one people came to. I solved problems, I didn't create them. Knowing me as well as my family and close friends did, I had no chance of dilution. There was no way I'd be able to play things down to a level I felt comfortable with. I'd be naked, exposed for my fraudulent mental strength, 'a weak prick', and it would become 'a thing'. And if there's one thing blokes hate, it's when things become a thing. Stupid? Perhaps, but it's how men think. I eventually got through it, but only after I reached out and got help.
Fast forward a number of years, I was a father, we had moved to a new suburb, our kids were starting preschool, and I was envious that all the mums knew each other, but the dads only ever seemed to hit polite introduction déjà vu. Thankfully, one of the mums arranged a golf day. A couple us instantly recognised the potential for man-love, and on the back of this, we decided a simpler, more regular get together was needed. And so 'Dads' Drinks' (DDs) was born. It started with a core group of six blokes who were committed to a monthly meet up. I honestly thought we'd have a handful of us each month enjoying a couple of drinks and that would at least give us the chance to get to know our community. How wrong I was.
Over the next year, the DDs email list grew from six to 60 blokes and it wasn't unusual to have 15-20 blokes turn up throughout the evening. Yes, at times it got rowdy, and I'd be lying if I said there wasn't footage out there somewhere of me walking on my hands down a train platform. But never did it turn remotely negative. Enduring friendships were made, sporting teams, jobs, even new careers have been launched. But the best thing by far was when someone would front up (let's call him Gary) one week and say they'd had a shit day. After listening to Gary's story, someone else would no doubt relate how something similar had happened to them, we'd all throw in our two bob, have a drink and the evening would kick on with great humour and camaraderie.
There are several things that are significant in such a simple scenario insofar as it relates to mental health and suicide. Firstly, Gary turned up. He turned up because he felt no pressure at all. Gary's issues weren't the primary reason for meeting up. This immediately obliterates isolation, one of the most dangerous factors for sufferers of mental health difficulties Secondly, when others relate their similar stories, Gary goes from feeling like a freak to feeling more "normal". I remember always being able to tell when my wife had come home from her mothers' group. She was inevitably lighter and brighter, recharged even. It was brilliant. I would sometimes feel bad that I often couldn't do the same for her, until I realised I was too linked to the stress. Being able to relate to people in a similar scenario, who aren't related to the problem, is so powerful, just ask hairdressers the world over! Support groups are based on this, and this is what I found with DDs. I tell you, there was barely a bloke there who didn't come up to me at some point and tell me how great DDs was. More importantly, there were a few who told me they downright needed it. This always warmed me, and when I hit my own bumps I looked so forward to the last Thursday of the month and DDs, because I knew that for those few hours my problems would be gone and I'd be just like anyone else. This is the little recharge. Of course, this doesn't solve your problems, but it goes a long way to making you feel supported and giving you the strength to seek help.
So, with all that, next time someone says, 'Come down the pub for a couple?', think about how you're travelling and don't brush it off so lightly. And for any wives, girlfriends, or partners reading, encourage him to go. Afterall, it's a matter of health.