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Martin Fisk: Making a difference through Menslink

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Martin Fisk is the CEO of Menslink, a Canberra based association aimed at providing assistance and counseling for young men in the region. The organisation was founded in 2002 to address the increasing needs of young men in the community, and to break away from the stigma that men do not need help. According to Martin this message is more important than ever in modern society.

Q. What is the purpose of Menslink?

A. Menslink helps young men make better choices and engage positively with society, because young men matter to our community and its future. We provide free education services to around 7,000 young guys to help them understand how to engage and get support when they need it. We provide free counselling to around 200 young guys who are struggling with a major upset in their lives, be it mental health problems, bullying or otherwise, and around 50 young guys are partnered up with a volunteer adult male mentor each year who acts as a role model and guide for them (as most of them don’t have a regular positive male influence in their lives).

Q. Why do you see a need for Menslink in today’s society?

A. Despite what most people think, young men are doing it tough in today’s society. Here’s some stats:

  • Young men drop out of high school, college and university at double the rate of young women
  • 95% of all detainees in our prison system are male with one in seven young men under the age of 18 having been warned or arrested by police
  • The suicide rate for men (mostly under age 45) is more than three times that of women with nearly three deaths by suicide for every road fatality. Statistically, six men around Australia take their own life every day (two women) and more than one every two weeks in Canberra.
  • Young men suffer the same rates of depression and anxiety as young women, but are three times less likely to seek help, meaning they may suffer for much longer than they need to
  • The majority of family violence incidents and almost all public assaults like coward punches involve males

When things don’t go well for (young) men, they seem to take destructive action against themselves or others at rates three or four times that of women, causing lasting damage all around them. We try and take a preventative approach: sure we help young men now but we also try and set them up with relationship and problem solving skills to help build resilience in adult life as well.

Q. Do you think that the modern world is creating gender based problems for young men?

A. I think the modern world is creating huge gender problems for all young people of both sexes. Media and screen-based entertainment is taking an increasingly dominant role in the lives of young people, from a very early age – reaching saturation point in a number of cases. They portray impossible-role models for young people: women must be physically attractive and men must be physically strong and dominant. In almost all movies and shows targeting young people, the hero of the story uses violence as the primary means of resolving conflict. Most portrayals of women are as secondary characters who fulfill the role of “eye candy” and must always have a romantic liaison with the lead man. Look up the Representation Project for more details. Game of Thrones is probably the most extreme example but everything from any of the Marvel Comic Series to Star Wars to James Bond.

In this world of stereotyping, is it any wonder that 14% of young men responded to a White Ribbon Survey last year agreeing with the statement that “it might not be right, but threatening to hit someone gets you what you want”?

Q. Do you think you are making a difference through Menslink?

A. I believe Menslink is making a very big difference, while at the same time knowing that we are only scratching the surface. After the first year of our Silence is Deadly education program, schools in Canberrra reported a 133% increase in the number of young men seeking help – a fantastic result meaning more young men were dealing with their problems and weren’t ashamed of asking for help. Last year (the third year of running the program), schools reported a 43% increase, showing that the impact has been sustained over a period of time. Only last year, we had two young men who by this time had left school approach us for help because they had kept our help card in their wallet from previous years.

Every year, we help around ten young men avoid suicide: they come to us for help or are referred to us by concerned schools, friends or parents and we give them tools and tips to manage their current situation and, more importantly, hope for the future.

If you or someone you know is seeking support or would like to contact Menslink please call 02 6287 2226

By Amy Sullivan

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