CANBERRA Menslink chief executive Martin Fisk says that while lockdown has been tough, the transition back to normal life will actually be the hardest time for many young men.
As Canberra eased its covid restrictions last year the mental-health support organisation received a record number of requests for help.
“We had a huge number of calls from young guys, their parents, their partners, everyone,” says Martin, who’s been in the position with Menslink for 10 years.
“Now just recently we had a request from a young guy who, after 2021’s roadmap was announced, said: ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do’.”
He says it’s a sign of another large influx of young men who will be needing mental-health support as the capital comes out of lockdown.
“Many young guys are expecting to get back to work, but by the time lockdown is over work might not be available,” he says.
“That’s going to be hard, particularly if you’re in hospitality or one of those trades where work is casual.
“Many young guys are on disaster payments and aren’t sure what they’re going to do when that coin stops coming in.
“Kids coming back to school after a long time away, particularly if they’ve been bullied before at school, can really send the anxiety levels sky high as well.
“We saw a lot of kids [refusing to attend] school last year and we expect the same to happen this coming term.”
Martin believes one of the biggest mental health challenges for young men is overcoming the perceived embarrassment of sharing what they’re going through with others, made even more difficult after weeks of isolation.
“The Mission Australia youth survey said that the number one barrier for getting support for mental health issues was feeling embarrassed by it,” says Martin.
“I don’t know whether we’re born or bred like this, but us guys, we all want to be the problem solver so admitting that something’s got you beat can be very hard.
“We want to share the message with young guys that there are so many blokes out there that do have problems that have had us beat, and the more they understand this happens to so many of us the less embarrassing it becomes.”
Lockdown restrictions have also meant many young men are unable to engage in psychological outlets such as sport, which significantly impacts mental health.
“Outlets like sport give young guys a sense of purpose, certainly a sense of teamwork and community, and when they lose that connection it can be very hard.
“That sense of community is something all of us need whether you’re young, old, male, female or gender neutral.”
As a result, Martin says the Menslink “silence is deadly” message has never been more important.
Partnering with the Canberra Raiders to help spread awareness, the campaign aims to break the perceived stigma around young men asking for help if they need it.
It’s Martin’s hope that by helping young men understand they aren’t alone in their struggles, it will be easier for them to share and seek support.
“I remember when I was at school and I was really going through a tough time, I thought I was the only one struggling,” he says.
“I eventually went to the counsellor and they told me that not only was I not the only kid struggling in the school, but even in my year there were other kids that needed support, that I wasn’t alone.
“That made a big difference in my own life and inspires me today.”
Based on last year’s numbers, Martin says Menslink will be expecting particularly high demand for counselling services, as well as for their mentoring program, where an older man listens to and helps support a younger one.
“A Menslink mentor is someone who listens and shows by example how to handle daily life as a man in today’s world and especially now, we’re always looking for new mentors,” he says.
“You don’t have to be heroic, just genuine, responsible and open to sharing your time.”
Ultimately, Martin wants to spread the message that despite the difficulty of the last few years, it won’t last forever.
“Everyone who will read this article has a 100 per cent track record in getting through tough times,” he says.
“They’ve jumped hundreds of hurdles, they’ve dealt with hundreds of problems successfully, they can do it again, and it’s okay to ask for help to get there.”
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