Suicide is the leading cause of death of young men in Australia. Between stoicism, cultural norms, and a mental health sector that often fails to effectively engage young men—bold new approaches are needed. Soften the Fck Up is a purposefully-counter cultural approach to men's mental health.
A grassroots campaign that engaged young men with their own language, and helped engineer a shift in cultural understanding of how we talk about mental health and illness.
Soften the Fck Up launched to global acclaim, with coverage across Australia and internationally, as well as a strong online following of supporters that continues to this day. The campaign also won several awards including the Men's Health Forum and Deloitte Social Innovation award.
Men don’t talk about their emotions
Suck it up. Get over it. Harden the fuck up. These are common phrases often promoted to encourage resilience amongst men, however, these words do little to teach resilience, rather they result in men stoicly repressing emotions and not taking positive action for their mental health.
The issue is compounded by the fact that the mental health sector often fails to effectively engage young men, despite suicide being the leading cause of death for men aged 14-44 in Australia.
A bold approach to language
Soften the Fck Up was a series of campaigns that purposefully used counter-cultural language and messaging to reach a demographic that purposefully avoid the topic of mental health.
Soften the Fck Up was spur:’s first ever campaign. It drew from our own experiences with mental health, and the struggle to access jargon-filled, clinical services in Australia. It was our goal to challenge this power dynamic through a shift in language and imagery.
We actually have no idea…and that’s a problem
Soften the Fck Up was the first ever campaign we launched back in 2011. The campaign reached hundreds of thousands of people and we won a range of international awards that we were incredibly proud of.
Upon reflection we realised that despite all the coverage and views we received, we had no idea how effective the campaign was at actually getting men to take action for their mental health . One comment on our YouTube channel said “This video saved my life 6 months ago. My circumstances haven’t really changed, but my outlook has. So, thank you." It’s an incredibly humbling comment, but at the end of the day it remains the only data point we have to speak to our effectiveness.
We came to the sobering realisation that we didn’t have a single metric that demonstrated whether we had positively contributed to men’s mental health or a reduction in suicide. We had reached a crossroad: Should we even be in the mental health space if we can’t measure our impact? Or, if we do want to continue, how might we develop metrics that will ensure that our future campaigns will demonstrably make difference? How could we ever know that what we do today might affect someone’s life tomorrow, next year or in 5 years?
We went into a period of deep introspection and research. Not only can metrics be challenging to develop at the best of times, but when you’re working in a preventative space where others are working too, it becomes even more complex. We mapped out the mental health space, demographics, the “user journey”, and what other organisations were doing (after all, if someone else is already doing it, then why duplicate it?).
A common theme began to arise from the research: In order for men to take positive action for their mental health the first two steps are always “understanding / acknowledging how they are actually feeling” and “talking / sharing how they’re feeling”. Although we might never be able to say that our campaigns directly reduced the rate of suicide in Australia, we can embed the first critical step of mental health action into each of our campaigns: Men talking about how they’re feeling in a way we can measure.
This was transformational. It aligned the teams’ focus, it provided a unique differentiation in the mental health space, it’s broad enough to work across demographics and a range of campaigns, it’s concise and simple in a way volunteers can easily rally around, and provides a central metric to prove the effectiveness of our mental health work.