John Kirwan inspires men to reach out for help

By Martha McKenzie-Minifie

Former All Black John Kirwan's vivid description of his experience with depression in a series of TV commercials is being credited with a rise in men asking for help.

Half the callers to the National Depression Initiative helpline had been men, bucking the trend of women callers to counselling lines outnumbering men two to one, said LifeLine chief executive Bryan Wilshire.

"It's quite astounding," Mr Wilshire said. "It's had its moments when it's [the number of male callers] more than the female figure."

Waikato University lecturer Richard Pringle, who wrote his PhD thesis on men's attitudes to rugby culture, admired the former winger for speaking out and said the ads challenged many people's view of footballers.

"I think it is challenging some stereotypes of masculinity," said Dr Pringle. "I think the fact that he is who he is and is doing this makes it more powerful."

The advertisements, by agency FCB, are part of a $6.4 million Government campaign to reduce the impact of depression.

In the commercials, Kirwan speaks openly of the rapid on-set of his depression.

"One day I was happy-go-lucky JK, the next morning I got up, looked in the mirror and there was this guy I didn't like looking back.

"The biggest fear for me was that I was never going to be well again, I was never going to be the John Kirwan that went into this."

Mr Wilshire said the ads were "genuine" and "gutsy" and touched previously hard-to-reach people.

"People haven't realised beforehand that, say, their partner was actually suffering depression - they'd not believed it," he said.

"Now they realise that they can do something about it."

Mr Wilshire said Kirwan was thrilled with the response.

"He encouraged them [people with depression] to keep on looking until they find someone who can give them some help and [remember] that there is a light at the end of the tunnel."

Call attempts to LifeLine swelled from 27,500 in August to almost 60,000 last month, when the ads first screened.

The three commercials in the five-ad series that screened last month will repeat during the Christmas and New Year period. The final two in the series are due to go to air in February.

* Visit the National Depression Initiative website or call 0800 111 757 for more details.

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