A former Australian army soldier turned personal trainer is providing thousands of fathers with a safe space to connect and speak openly about their mental wellbeing through an online fitness community.
- ‘The Fit Dad Lifestyle’ group provides fitness and well-being support
- The community is a safe space for men to reach out if they are struggling
- The Black Dog Institute also recommends reaching out to a professional for help
Leroy Faure, 34, from Noosa on the Sunshine Coast, started the social media group ‘The Fit Dad Lifestyle’ in 2018 as a way he and wife Naatja could share workouts and motivational advice with friends and family.
The group quickly expanded and now more than 22,000 members trade insights on fitness and how to be better equipped as parents and partners.
“We started off by offering just fitness programs and different workouts, then it very quickly turned into a whole-life approach to not only their physical fitness but their mental fitness,” Mr Faure said.
“We try to create a negative-free environment so if there’s any negativity or hate speech the person gets removed straight away and that’s really showing the group we’re providing a safe environment where they can still be free and open to ask for support. “
Mr Faure — who has two children: Harry, 6, and Tanner, 3, — said the group also helped members with goal setting, time management, emotional intelligence and fostering positive relationships.
He said it often took a few months for some of the men to come out of their shell and reach out if they were struggling.
“One of the big things we find with men and fathers in the group is a lot of people are not confident enough to ask for help or advice in the first instances, but after a month or two you’ll see someone write their post and really reach out,” Mr Faure said.
“They might be going through a divorce or their children might be experiencing this, or its about bullying or something to do with an illness.
“Nine times out of 10 there’s someone in our community that has experienced it or gone through it that can pass valued support or reach out for a phone call or if they live close by, to go for a coffee.
“Being a male myself and being a veteran, and seeing all the mental health issues in the veteran field, I know how hard and tough it is.
Mr Faure served as an Australian Army soldier in East Timor from 2007 to 2008.
Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics found one in eight Australian men experience depression in their lifetime and Beyond Blue said evidence indicated men are far less likely to seek help for mental health conditions than women.
Single father Deon Krahe, 40, is a FIFO worker based on the Sunshine Coast and has two children, Elias, 8, and Ariana, 6.
He became involved in the group to attend local boot camps and later reached out for support to help deal with his recent separation and medical complications affecting his daughter.
“I’ve always been quite a closed-off person, and I’m used to dealing with everything myself because I’ve never wanted to be a burden,” he said.
“I’ve learned a few really important lessons. The first is that I’m never alone.
“The second lesson is that it’s okay to speak up, and that we don’t have to be afraid of negative judgment.
“And thirdly, I’ve learned that life is not a contest and it’s okay to have dark days because we all do. It’s how you get back up that really matters.”
Exercise and peer-support highly effective
Black Dog Institute Director Professor Helen Christensen said the combination of physical and mental health support offered through the informal support group would be having positive benefits.
“Evidence suggests that online forums can actually improve mental health outcomes for those who use them,” she said.
“Exercise and social support together also are likely to be highly effective because we know that exercise by itself is also important in reducing levels of depression.
“So the idea of a support group and an exercise component to it is likely to lead to quiet significant improvements in mental health.”
Mr Christensen said it was also important to reach out to a professional for help.
“Social support probably isn’t enough if people are really having hard challenges,” she said.
“If they’re going through awful divorces, or they’ve experienced PTSD or they’re frontline workers or if they’ve redeveloped their mental health problem during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Then I think seeking professional help is really what’s required.”