Too many Ballarat men are losing their lives early - and it doesnt have to happen.
That is the stark belief of a group of local medical professionals and campaigners who are calling for urgent action - and Catholic Church funds - to address what they call a gaping hole in mens health services.
They include urologist Lachlan Dodds and Ballarat Health Services Board member Andrew McPherson. Ballarat has almost twice as many suicides as Melbourne and a significantly higher rate of mens health issues than average - and they want action now.
A dedicated mens health centre would, they believe, help curb premature deaths - whether through suicide or ill health - and their devastating effect on families and the wider community.
The issues spread further than the fallout from child sexual abuse. Cardiovascular illnesses are higher in the city than in many comparable places for example.
But Cardinal George Pells jailing has cast a spotlight on a pledge he made in Rome three years ago, reading from a handwritten note.
I want to help make Ballarat a model and a better place for healing and for peace, he said.
It would be marvellous if our city became well known as an effective centre for the example of practical help for all those wounded by the scourge of sexual abuse.
Pell is clearly no longer in a position to act even if he intended to.
For sexual abuse survivor Peter Blenkiron, the disillusion is palpable. Nothing has changed, he said earlier this week.
A passionate advocate of a long-term strategy and men's health centre, he said was rebuffed when he went to the Catholic Church for help with funding.
I feel such an overwhelming sense of frustration when I look at the statistics around suicide and premature deaths in Ballarat.
Our committee is ready to go, we have got a board structure set up. We are offering this on a plate. It would look after blokes in Ballarat from now on.Lachlan Dodds, urologist
That feeling is shared by Mr Dodds, who thinks a service could make a fundamental difference to many of those at risk.
If this is going to work, it needs to work now. The last thing we want to do is go out and say this stuff, then nothing happens. We have our reputations on the line.
Its a no-brainer. The ripple effect of people who have been abused through the Catholic Church crisis has contributed significantly to this.
This is the epicentre of where all this trouble took place.
He said Catholic Church funding could be seen as a really positive move.
If ever they wanted to make a meaningful statement about mens health in Ballarat then this is their opportunity.
Our committee is ready to go, we have got a board structure set up. We are offering this on a plate.
It would look after blokes in Ballarat from now on.
He said that an Australian Catholic University study gave statistical backing to his day-to-day experience that there were too many men he encountered in his work affected by these issues.
The more time went on, the more he and a group of fellow professionals realised there was a problem that needed to be fixed.
Andrew McPherson, who is on the board of Ballarat Health Services and part of the planned committee, agrees.
Our concerns are really nothing compared to the families of the people affected by all this. Thats what were really frustrated about. We think we can make a difference but we just cant get it goingAndrew McPherson, Ballarat Health Services board member
We havent been addressing this issue appropriately for a few years now, even though weve had a fair idea about the extent of the problem, he told The Courier, saying he wanted to see funding kick-started within the next three months after so much delay.
[The process] feels to us as though it has stalled.
Those of us who have been working on this for a while feel frustrated - but our concerns are really nothing compared to the families of the people affected by all this.
Thats what were really frustrated about. We think we can make a difference but we just cant get it going.
A MEN'S HEALTH CENTRE: WHAT'S NEEDED?
"There's a massive gap within the existing system around men's health and getting men to ask for help early," says Peter Blenkiron. The vision he, Andrew McPherson, Lachlan Dodds and other medical professionals share is to set up a men's health centre, which Ballarat currently does not have.
It would be free and accessible within business hours. A nurse or medical professional with an interest in mens health and knowledge of existing services would be on hand.
The aim would be to support early intervention - whether physical or mental - and link men to the right treatment. It could be psychological or medical, a GP, or a community health centre to give a few examples.
To toughen up, it's okay when you are playing sport, but it's not okay when you're talking about your emotional well-being. You've got to go and get help when you need helpPeter Blenkiron, survivor and campaigner
Those behind the plan say initial costs would be substantial, but that the sum would look after both the set-up and provide sustainable funding for a clinic from the interest.
Mr Blenkiron said while there was good support for women's services, the gap for men needed attention.
"If we can address that, not only does it help men, but it helps families who would be severely affected when men die prematurely or take their own lives," he said.
"To toughen up, it's okay when you are playing sport, but it's not okay when you're talking about your emotional well-being. You've got to go and get help when you need help."
- Affected by this story? The Centre Against Sexual Assault Ballarat has urged people affected by the news of Cardinal Pell's conviction, or the revelations of child sexual abuse, to seek help if needed. People can arrange a one-off session, or they can look to have ongoing counselling. The centre also offers advocacy and case management. Phone CASA, Sebastopol on 5320 3933, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or free-call the crisis care line 24 hours on 1800 806 292.
- Phone Lifeline on 13 11 14, or Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277.
- The Blue Knot Foundation, which helps survivors of childhood trauma, has a helpline available from 9am to 5pm on 1300 657 380, or email email@example.com
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