When I got home yesterday afternoon, this was waiting on my manky doorstep:
Beer. Exactly the right kind of package you like being left on your doorstep, especially having just finished work.
Less than a generation ago, you wouldn’t have to come home first for a beer. And when we say “you”, we mean “a bloke”.
Because blokes all over the nation never used to go straight home from work. It was pretty much an unwritten law that work wasn’t really finished until you’d stopped in at your local and shared a bevvie and a laugh with your workmates.
People and times change, and no doubt there are many, many homes across Australia that are happy to see dad home earlier – i.e. before the kids are in bed – and less boozed up nowadays.
In fact, it’s almost impossible to believe they ever got away with it, and only a very brave, and lonely, few would argue it was better that way.
But in one way, it was, according to Sydney entrepreneur Trevor Lowder.
“It’s not pretty but although suicide rates generally have actually come down, they’ve actually increased quite significantly from the 40+ age group all the way through to 70,” he says.
“They were the guys who used to just get together in the pub and have a chat and they don’t know who to reach out to any more.”
Lowder knows what it’s like to be cut off from his mates by depression. Nearly 20 years ago, he watched his brother die of electrocution.
Ten years later, he began experiencing severe anxiety attacks and thoughts of suicide that would later be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I had no idea what was happening,” he says. “I was certainly far too ashamed of what I perceived as weakness to share my feelings with my wife, let alone family or friends.
“Without help, things rapidly became worse and I arrived at the point where I felt I could no longer go on.”
In the “final moment”, he says, he found the strength to reach out to his wife and in recognising his illness, get on the road to recovery.
Lowder got lucky. Very few men are willing to simply ring a mate “just for a chat”.
“Gone are the days where guys are meeting up at the pub, maybe having one or two and going home to the family, and that chance to catch up and talk like mates,” he says.
“That starts off a relatively light conversation and ideally over time as you get to know people … the conversation progresses through the taste of your beer or cider to your local football team to life’s journey itself.”
So 12 months ago, Lowder launched an idea. In a world where blokes no longer go to the pub for a chat, he’d bring the pub chat to their doorstep.
Here’s what it looks like:
It’s from Lowder’s startup Craft Beer Coopery and you might have noticed there’s not a VB tinny in sight. That’s because the best conversation starter over a beer is so often about the beer itself. Best make the beer interesting, then.
Lowder has literally tapped in to Australia’s scene of 600-odd craft brewers for the ultimate excuse to catch up. There are two bottle of four different beers in each box to share, plus a single can of something a bit more experimental.
I got the Last Rites “She’s No Bette Midler Red Ale”.
There’s a snack, and alongside the tasting notes for each beer is something equally important – coasters from R U OK. That’s because R U OK’s CEO Brendan Maher agrees that sharing a drink – responsibly – is a practical way to stay connected with your mates and loved ones.
“We both have a stance that it’s not for everyone,” Lowder says. “We know depression and alcohol have a pretty significant link but in the grand scheme, it’s in a minority of cases.
“They agree that a great beer with great mate with an ear is a great thing to have. And the way the box is set up, there’s only nine beers in the box and you’re not going to get blind on nine beers, and nor are you going to pay $50 to do that.”
There are few things more disconcerting than discovering a great new beer and having no one to confirm it with. Lowder has also launched a “craft it forward” promotion for subscribers to send a box to an out of town mate they know might be struggling and needing a social lubricant to get a conservation going.
Maybe even chat about opening a brewery.
“The way I actually choose beers is rather than go through a broker, I like to reach out to the brewery itself and explain what i’m trying to do and ask them what their story is,” he says.
“Often they’ve got a really nice story to tell about a couple of mates coming together, having a couple of beers, dreaming big and starting a business.
“That story has repeated itself in probably at least half the beers I’ve selected.”
Recent research has revealed that disconnection and isolation are as dangerous as smoking. One in five Australians have never met their next-door neighbours.
And Lowder says even after 20 years since his brother died, he “still struggles” with his PTSD.
“But I know it well enough to know when I’m up and down and I do all the right things,” he says.
“I still take medication daily, which I’ve come to accept there’s nothing wrong with. If I had high blood pressure I’d take medication for my high blood pressure too.
“I think I manage it by becoming comfortable to talk about it and by encouraging other people to talk about it too.
“If I had a broken leg it wouldn’t be an issue and you know, I hold down a fulltime job, I have depression and I take medication every now and then.
“It’s not a big deal now.”
People in Australia with personal problems can call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or get immediate support through online chat or over the phone from Beyond Blue. You can find R U OK’s four-step process for checking up on a mate here.
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