Attendees of all ages teamed-up for a friendly game of wheelchair basketball last Thursday, in the name of mental health and communication.

The event held at the Shellharbour City Stadium was organised by the Barstool Brothers, a local mental health awareness group based out of the Wollongong bar His Boy Elroy.

Event organiser and Barstool Brothers committee member, Daniel Olival, believes that it’s events like these that allow the disabled and able-bodied community to come together to play a sport that is as challenging as it is unique.

“People who are disabled normally get avoided or are not as easy to connect to, because you’re too afraid of what you might say… an event like this gives us the opportunity to interact with a community that we probably wouldn’t normally interact with by choice,” said Mr Olival.

“We offer it to everyone, anyone who is abled or disabled to just have a good time getting to know people you wouldn’t get to know and just enjoying the experience.”

With around half of attendees disabled, Mr Olival hopes that the event can provide a wider perspective on life for people who don’t use a wheelchair every day.

“You usually find its people who aren’t permanently in a wheelchair yet but, they’ve been diagnosed with something that possibly will see them in a wheelchair later on,” said Mr Olival.

“Young children and teenagers sometimes come, and their parents say ‘well we wanted to give them an opportunity to see that there are other sports out there, or that there are other things out there that they can do’”.

This event is just one of many monthly events organised by the Barstool Brothers. General manager Daniel Chin believes that with events like the wheelchair basketball, as well as their monthly catchup events at His Boy Elroy, there are plenty of opportunities for people who may be struggling mentally to find support.

“We found more and more guys coming and sitting at the bar and partaking in more deep conversation and being a bit more honest and open, it was kind of welcoming in a way,” Mr Chin said.

“We found that men actually do want to talk, it’s not that they don’t want to talk, they don’t know where or how, but they want to talk, and if they’re comfortable they will.”

Speaking out is a challenge for many adult men, it is something that Mr Olival wants to promote as a normality, not a sign of weakness.

According to Beyond Blue, only 27.5 percent of males with a mental disorder and recent symptoms had accessed services for their mental health problems compared with 40.7 percent of females.

“The stigma is that men need to not express that they’re struggling… ’Don’t be weak, don’t be vulnerable, suck it up’, and that’s the stigma that’s going around,” said Mr Olival.

“A lot of men then keep quiet and unfortunately, with 75 percent of suicide rates being males, its deadly.”

A website for the Barstool Brothers is in the final stages of development along with a hospitality-targeted educational program, which Mr Chin hopes will teach those in the hospitality industry how to identify and support patrons who may be struggling.

“We partnered with Gotcha4Life for a pilot study and we trained about 200 people in a mental health communication course,” said Mr Chin.

“We did some surveys of the people involved and we found that around 80% of the people working in the hospitality industry had below average mental health”.

“Let’s educate the people who work in these venues so that they can start looking after each other, the venues can start looking after their staff who then in turn can start looking after their customers.”

The Barstool Brothers are planning to run another pilot study with the help of the University of Wollongong before launching their educational program state-wide.

They the aim to train about thirty thousand hospitality workers in mental health awareness within twelve months, starting from this July.