When was the last time you took stock of your emotional wellbeing? When was the last time you checked in with yourself? These are questions three young Melbournians are hoping to raise each week.
“Vulnerability creates avenues for more vulnerability,” explains Sunny Bahuguna, one of the founders of Bottled Up, a podcast dedicated to conversations around men’s mental health.
“I’ve found that people understand the gravity of their situation after they start articulating their story out loud. Mental health journeys can feel isolating, but we’re here to say you’re never alone.”
Bottled Up, co-founded with Mayank Sohani and Ujjwal Chaudhry, provides a platform for people to open up about their mental health stories in the hope of inspiring others to do the same. Spanning nearly thirty episodes so far, the UniMelb mates have already hosted some prominent names including former AFL footballers Lin Jong and Tom Boyd and anti-violence campaigner Tarang Chawla.
“I’ve uncovered more about my own story in the last 1.5 years when listening to others,” Sunny tells Indian Link. “It’s made me a lot more empathetic and appreciative of people’s stories. No one is immune from mental health concerns, but all of us have the power to check in.”
Driven by this desire to carve a safe space for discussions around men’s mental health, Bottled Up was first ideated as activities and seminars in high schools. When lockdown began, it moved online, turning these conversations into easily accessible, free podcasts instead.
According to recent figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, an average of one in eight men will experience depression, and one in five men will experience anxiety, at some stage of their lives. With the ‘boys don’t cry’ narrative that continues to plague men today, improving transparency around men’s mental health remains a crucial issue.
For 23-year-old Sunny, this desire strikes a personal chord.
“Men feel this pressure to be strong for the sake of the family. Growing up in a single parent household, I thought that I needed to be the ‘man of the house’ at 14 or 15 years old. It felt like it was expected of me, but I didn’t have the language to express myself,” he shares.
Besides a lack of vocabulary to articulate these difficult emotions, the fear of judgement and “log kya kahenge?” (what will people say?) within the South Asian community continues to hinder many people’s ability to come forward and start a conversation.
Sunny elaborates, “It’s worth noting that there are intergenerational traumas, like the Partition, that are deeply rooted in the history of our community and it gets passed down, affecting our behaviours. We’re all capable of breaking a bone or hurting ourselves physically, why is our mental health any different?”
Each week, Mayank, Ujjwal, and Sunny share aspects of their own mental health journey and invite guests with their own lived experiences to discuss, along with interviewing those in the mental health space, like founders and advocates, and specialists, like psychologists and GPs. More often than not, the boys note, people are really willing to come forward and share their story.
“Men have been conditioned to step up and be strong, but they’re now getting access to tools to be vulnerable and talk things through. We’ve had some fantastic conversations on the show, like the episode with Heshan Fernando. Growing up, he didn’t have a close relationship with his workaholic father, but they’ve since reconciled and went on to start The Model Man, an organisation that works to create positive male role models in the workforce.”
The three friends, all working professionals, carve out time each week towards Bottled Up, in the hopes of creating meaningful conversations and ultimately a sense of empowerment.
“For those struggling with their mental health, we want them to feel empowered to reach out for assistance and take action. And even if listeners aren’t going through something themselves, we hope they feel empowered to recognise the signs and check in on those around them,” says Sunny.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, please contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4536, Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14, or headspace on (03) 9027 0100.