Seated man looking contemplative at camera from a barber chair.
Mental health is just as important as physical wellbeing.Image by: Movember
Seated man looking contemplative at camera from a barber chair.
14 July 2022

In the Barber Chair with Michael Hester: the power of community sport

5 minutes read time

After his son Jarrod died by suicide last year, Michael Hester became an advocate for men’s mental health in his local footy community at Langwarrin Football Club.

Experiencing first-hand the impact mental ill-health can have on young men and the wider community, Michael is focussed on the role community sport plays in creating a better future for young men. His goal is to get people to speak up when they’re struggling, and to have them look out for signs that a teammate, friend, son, or daughter might be struggling and how they can help.

We recently sat down with Mo Bro Michael, who told us about the challenges his son faced, and the importance of breaking down mental health stigma.

Thank you so much for sharing your story, Michael. To start off, can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m 45 years old and a father of six: three girls and three boys. I come from a broken family and grew up in foster care. I went down the wrong path as a teenager and ended up in trouble with the law, but I cleaned up my act at 19 and I’ve been quite successful ever since.

What do you think are some of the challenges facing men and their health today?

I don’t think the effect of COVID can be underestimated. With people losing jobs, lockdowns, and everything else, alcohol abuse is a real problem right now. Pride is also a massive issue. A lot of men mistakenly believe you’re not strong if you admit something’s not right. I think a lot of that comes from our male influences growing up.

Can you tell us a little about your son Jarrod?

Jarrod was a quiet, shy kid growing up. He’d always had hidden anger issues that he would bottle up until they exploded. Basketball and footy helped his confidence hugely as a teen, especially as he started to grow. He reached 6’2” and 80kg and was very proud of it – just ask the mirrors in the house! He was a good student too, especially at maths.

He had a messy break up with his girlfriend at the end of year 10 and quit school, so he moved in with me and got a bricklaying apprenticeship, which he loved. He played social basketball, but football was his main passion; again, the physicality of it and the one-on-one competitiveness. He was a very good centre-half/full-back and rarely got beaten. Losses hit him hard. He got along with everyone; you can see that in his friendship group. He had life plans that he was on the way to achieving. He bought his first car with cash and was saving to buy his first house at 22. He was planning to have his own business by 25.

Jarrod’s death was a complete shock to everyone that knew him.

How important was footy and the club at Langwarrin to Jarrod?

Jarrod lived for playing. Our relationship definitely got stronger through football. He knew he could talk to me about his game without me judging or coaching him.

In 2022, the Langwarrin Football Club organised for the Danny Frawley Centre to come out and deliver Movember’s Ahead of the Game program. Ahead of the Game is a prevention focused mental health program delivered to young men in community sports settings. Why do you think sporting clubs are an important place to try and reach young men and teach them to prioritise their mental health?

Sporting clubs have such a competitive culture. It’s easy to hide your feelings or even push them down for a space of time. Players have a lot on their plate: partners, work, bills, cost of living, alcohol, family; these are all responsibilities that come around at this age. It’s too easy to bury yourself in these responsibilities and forget about your own mental health.

What do you hope the young men at the club can get from talking more and having conversations around mental health?

I hope it can help them understand that depression isn’t something that’s wrong with you, but something that’s not quite right instead. I want them to know it’s ok to talk about these things, and that it’s not ok to brush someone off if they’re not quite right.

You spoke to some of the players at the end of the session. Can you tell us about what you said?

I highlighted the importance of the Ahead of the Game sessions and how much it had resonated with me. If I can get something out of it (as a parent), so can they. I think it was important for me to say something because I’m not a teacher giving a lecture, I’m someone living through this, with them. That fact itself holds a big emotional impact.

What do you hope people will get out of hearing your story?

An understanding that if Jarrod’s death was the worst day of my life, imagine what things must have been like for him. If we don’t talk, don’t observe, and don’t listen, we can’t help each other. My main message when it comes to men’s health is that there isn’t something wrong with you, something’s just not quite right.

Sadly, losing young men to suicide is still far too prevalent, and Michael’s story is a familiar one. Movember is aiming to reduce the rate of male suicides through prevention-focused programs like Ahead of the Game. Held within a community sporting environment, Ahead of the Game teaches athletes, parents, and coaches about how to talk about mental health, build resilience, get help when needed and overcome life’s challenges. Movember is focussed on engaging boys early and teaching them that mental health is just as important as physical wellbeing, both out on the field and in everyday life.

Learn more about the Ahead of the Game program and its impact on sporting communities.

Remember to check in on your mates and yourself, and to reach out for support if something’s not quite right.

If you or a mate need immediate support, please reach out to Lifeline on 13 11 14.