Menslink News

Menslink CEO’s address to the tenth annual Menslink Business Breakfast

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In front of 520 guests, representing over 43 corporate sponsors and many more organisations from around Canberra, Menslink CEO Martin Fisk spoke about Menslink’s efforts to address inter-generational family violence. His speech followed a very moving and personal address from one of our Menslink mums who spoke of her own journey and the help Menslink gave her and her sons.

It would be tempting to think that this mum’s story and the issues she faced were unusual – a one off aberration that really didn’t reflect the experiences of many families in Canberra. Unfortunately her situation is all too common.

It often starts with a young boy experiencing violence at home – either as a witness or even as a victim themselves. Mum and dad split up and the overwhelming majority of young people live predominantly with their single mum. The parental conflict often continues with kids still exposed to unhealthy messages from resentful parents. As he grows into a teenager he starts exhibiting the very behaviour that caused him so much grief as a young fella – outbursts of violence and aggression against others or even against himself.

The mum now has a real challenge on her hands. Often she has fled violence and conflict from her partner only to find that those behaviours have followed her into her new home. This time however, she can’t leave because it’s her SON.

Is it an isolated pattern? You might be surprised to learn that more than 10% of all family violence offenders in the ACT are young men between 10 and 19.

Our experience with these young guys shows a very common pattern. Here’s how it plays out:

A young boy grows up in a household marred by conflict if not outright violence. He watches behaviour, taking it all in. What works. What doesn’t. When things are OK when things escalate.

While he might be frightened and hate it, he’s subtly learning that yelling or fighting when somebody does something you don’t like actually works. That threats will often get you what you want. And sadly, that the most effective form of violence and aggression is against somebody weaker than yourself.  Where you can get away with it.

As he grows up, he looks to outside influences for confirmation of his growing world view.  And what sort of world view do we as adults provide him?

  • When we bombard someone with hundreds or thousands of hateful aggressive messages on social media just because we disagree with what they said or did
  • When our entertainment industry still promotes an outdated form of masculinity where violence is the best way of winning an outcome or resolving conflict
  • When our media highlight violence terror and conflict at every turn, propagating the myth that the world is far more violent than it actually is
  • When our political leaders so often appear more interested in attacking each other than working together to resolve issues that matter

His world view – with these outside influences reinforcing his own personal experience – tells him that not only is violence effective, but also that everyone is using it. It’s inescapable.

No wonder that over 30% of our young men need help managing anger or the impact of family violence. Or that nearly 60% have levels of anxiety that cause them to seek external support.

This is where Menslink comes in:

We change the message

We talk about the damage violence does rather than what it can achieve

We talk about our emotions and don’t hide behind a fake mask of the tough guy

We teach young guys to accept their emotions and that they don’t need to lash out when things don’t go their way

We show young guys the benefit of perspective – that tough times won’t last and whatever they’re going through right now is not how it will be forever.

More importantly, we provide a unique combination of both professional expertise and lived experience – a combination that gives practical advice the young guys can relate to and benefit from.

In our Silence is Deadly and other school presentations, we tell our own stories. Stories that that make young guys think and give them ideas and fresh perspectives. We talk about emotion, about hard times or the sometimes lifelong damage that bullying and violence can inflict – both on others and ourselves. And the ripple effects that kindness and helping out others can have.

Our counsellors don’t just listen to young men and they don’t try and diagnose conditions to be treated. They work with the young guys to put their situation into perspective. That they can accept their emotions and don’t need to be ruled by them. That they can feel a wave of anger or anxiety or grief and not be overwhelmed by it. That – with a few simple changes – they can get through tough times.

Our counsellors do this by helping the young guys figure out their values. Work out what they believe in, care about or want to stand for and making that front and centre in their lives. Their own values become the anchor that grounds them when everything else in their life might be in turmoil.

And our volunteer mentors spent countless hours over a period of two years or more with their young guy. Not telling him how to think or act, not being the voice of authority like a parent or a teacher.

But acting as guides, as sounding boards and most importantly as role models. They role model the sort of behaviours that we want all of our young guys to learn: kindness, listening, helping out a mate, being reliable, in tune with their own emotions and patient. Importantly, they show young guys how to build and sustain their own adult relationships – not just thru an Instagram or Facebook  like but through regular face to face contact and support through thick and thin.

Last financial year, with your support, we:

  • Delivered nearly eighty Silence is Deadly presentations to over 10,300 young men in schools, universities and sporting groups across the region
  • Supported 48 young guys in our volunteer mentoring program
  • Helped another 420 young guys with over 1,200 free counselling sessions at Menslink and over ten schools around Canberra
  • Developed a new group program to work with small groups of male school students on developing better respect for themselves and those around them; and
  • Extended our mentoring program to a small group of older teenagers who want to learn better independence and leadership skills to hopefully become mentors of the future…

And our work has achieved incredible results – not just for the young men but also for their families, their schools, their employers and our broader community.

Every six months, we survey parents and schools and ask them what impact we’ve had. Here’s what they told us:

More than 90% of schools reported a moderate to significant impact on the coping ability and overall mental wellbeing of students receiving counselling. Importantly, 84% reported a moderate or significant impact on both peer and staff relationships, meaning more learning and less disruption in class.

Again more than 90% of schools reported their male students were likely or far more likely to get professional support for life problems and likely or far more likely to encourage a friend to also get professional support as a result of our Silence is Deadly sessions.

And the biggest impact parents report after confidence and general happiness? Better relationships with family members. And as all of us know, a peaceful supportive home can have massive flow on effects for everyone’s lives.

So when you think about your investment in Menslink, know that it goes beyond just the young men we directly support this year. It’s helping people we’ve never met right now and will probably help people right across our community for many years to come…

But our work is not finished yet.

When this mum came to us for help with her youngest son, he was out of our age bracket of 12-25. Of course we helped anyway but it got us thinking.

The ages of 10-12 can be critical times for a young guy. It’s statistically the time when mum and dad are most likely to break up, meaning they’re involved in both loss and conflict. They are transitioning to high school – a big move in anyone’s language.

So this financial year we are extending all of our programs to support young men from age 10 and up. Not only is there a need there, but we feel this is an opportunity to really entrench some positive behaviours at an early stage before the negative influences take root in teenage years.

I’d like to finish off by thanking you all for your investment in our young men, their families and our future.

There are over 43 organisations represented here this morning across almost every business, government, sporting, community and educational endeavour. Every major political party is here this morning.

We have over thirty dedicated Menslink staff, mentors and volunteers dotted throughout the room, as well as a number of people who make very generous personal donations to Menslink.

Together, we’ve not only supported this mum’s family, but hundreds like them. Again with your support, thousands of young men now know it’s OK to ask for help, it’s there if they need it and that it’s free and readily available to them.

It costs as little as $1,600 per year to support a young man through troubled times. And this support can last a lifetime – as we not only help young guys but teach them resilience and relationship skills that set them for life.

Our goal is for our young men to develop into independent, supportive and caring adults who, having had help in their younger years, go on to help others and help build our community. In the words of our Ambassador David Morrison, men who reach out to help, not reach out to hurt.

And with your help – your support – that’s exactly what we’ll achieve.

Thank you so much and enjoy your breakfast.