9 April 2020

Increased demand, decreased revenue sees Menslink adapt to COVID-19 challenge

| Dominic Giannini
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Menslink walks for mental health

Menslink has seen its revenue drop and has had to adapt its approach to counselling in light of the coronavirus crisis. Photo: Facebook.

One of the great ironies of the coronavirus crisis is that as more and more people need access to mental health services because of a heightened sense of isolation and anxiety, the organisations we usually turn to are becoming more resource-strapped.

Group counselling sessions have been cancelled by many providers, as have fundraisers and volunteering for the most part, causing demand to go unanswered and organisations to lose valuable revenue streams.

One of those organisations feeling the pinch is Menslink.

Men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women and less likely to speak out about mental health issues, and now Menslink has had to cancel their mid-week group sessions, meaning young Canberrans have found themselves cut off from another avenue of peer support.

Menslink CEO Martin Fisk told Region Media it is all about adapting to the current environment and doing the best you can considering the circumstances.

“At the end of the day human beings are very social animals so we need to connect, and not being able to have that group environment is more challenge, but that said, it is the environment we have to live in so we do the best we can,” he said.

Menslink estimated that they have lost around $300,000 – or 20 per cent of their annual budget – between March and June after being forced to cancel their fundraisers.

And while the organisation initially saw a decrease in people reaching out, the numbers are steadily increasing, and are expected to do so for the next six months, Mr Fisk said.

“We saw an initial decrease and I think that was as people adjusted to the shock of the new reality,” he said.

“At the end of the day, if you just lost your job your first priority is Centrelink, not Menslink.

“What we have noticed more recently is the level of our requests for help has now gone up at a steady rate, there has been a very substantial increase this week from last week.”

Menslink has been fielding calls for all sorts of reasons, helping Canberran men work through everything from anxiety to bullying.

“It just depends on the person, some people are worried about the virus, some people are worried about their job, some people are worried about school isolation or online bullying they are experiencing,” Mr Fisk said.

“Some people are worried about being in a home environment that is not exactly healthy.”

Sia Soliola and Martin Fisk

Sia Soliola and Martin Fisk with one of the signed Raiders’ jumpers that was auctioned during the Menslink Midweeker in February 2020. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

While Menslink still provides one-on-one sessions over the phone, the organisation is helping its young clients by starting counselling walks between established mentors and mentees this week.

For many young men, these sessions may be the only exercise they get or are motivated enough to do during tough times, Mr Fisk said, as he stressed that all walking sessions were outdoors, two people only and physical distancing was still a requirement.

Both the Federal and ACT Government have stepped in to help Menslink continue to support Canberra’s young men, something they are extremely grateful for, Mr Fisk said.

“Given the massive drop in external funding, it will help replace some of that,” he said.

“Both the funding from the Federal and the ACT Government will go a long way to helping us keep our doors open and keep providing the support to the young guys who need it.”

ACT Minister for Mental Health Shane Rattenbury announced an $80,000 grant for Menslink while the Commonwealth’s JobKeeper program is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to the organisation.

“It is reasonable and expected to feel uncertain at this time,” Minister Rattenbury said.

“That is why the ACT Government is stepping up our support for those supporting others. I’m especially pleased to announce some $135,000 in extra funding for our frontline community mental health providers Perinatal Wellbeing Centre and Menslink.”

The latest economic stimulus package from the Barr Government set aside $2 million for mental health and community support services, bringing the Government’s total investment in the not-for-profit sector to $9 million across its two stimulus packages.

The organisation was also lucky enough to have completed a volunteer intake before the physical-distancing measures and shutdowns took effect, meaning they have around 20 extra volunteers trained and ready to help with the increased demand.

Menslink is still encouraging people who would like to volunteer to sign up on their website and they will conduct another intake and training session as soon as they can.

If you would like to donate to Menslink, support the organisation or find more information about your mental health and what they can do to help, visit their website at www.menslink.org.au.

There are also dedicated mental health and wellbeing resources on the ACT Health COVID-19 website you can access here.

If you or anyone you know needs help, you can also contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for 24-hour crisis support. In an emergency, call triple zero (000).

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