The Mayor of Ballarat Samantha McIntosh has joined calls for a men’s health centre for Ballarat this week after a network of child abuse survivors and health professionals made urgent pleas for funding.
She described the idea of a men’s health centre, which Ballarat currently does not have, as “imperative”.
“I absolutely support the idea," she told The Courier. "We need to look after our community that has suffered so much and help with healing in any way we can.”
Her words come after a renewed plea for funding to address some of the profound men’s health issues in Ballarat identified in a Australian Catholic University study (see below).
The city suffers from a much higher rate of male suicides than equivalent areas across the state, while cardiovascular and family violence issues are also notably more acute than average.
Lachlan Dodds, a Ballarat urologist and a strong advocate for a men’s health clinic, said earlier this week that “the ripple effect of people who have been abused through the Catholic Church crisis has contributed significantly [to the men’s health issues in Ballarat].”
“If ever [the Catholic Church] wanted to make a meaningful statement about men’s health in Ballarat then this is their opportunity.”
We need to look after our community that has suffered so much and help with healing in any way we canThe Mayor of Ballarat, Samantha McIntosh
Campaigners say that, despite promises for Ballarat to become a “healing centre” - made most prominently by Cardinal George Pell in Rome three years ago - funding has not come through, in particular from the Catholic Church.
Cr McIntosh said she supported a collaborative approach with long-term funding solution and would lobby agencies, as well as federal and state governments “with the guidance of the survivors and their families as to the best way forward”.
The issue of men’s health in Ballarat has gained national and international attention this week following an open letter published by Clare Linane, the wife of child sexual abuse survivor Peter Blenkiron.
Her response to a controversial column by Andrew Bolt of the Herald Sun that queried Pell’s guilty verdict has probably been read by more than a million people both in Australia and abroad.
Why isn’t Pope Francis knocking down our doors?Clare Linane
“Here in Ballarat we are going to continue to try to deal with the fact that our suicide rate among males is twice that of Melbourne and 65 percent greater than the Victorian average,” she wrote.
“We are going to keep trying to figure out how to reverse what has now become a cultural problem whereby males in our community resort to suicide instead of seeking help.”
In a subsequent highly charged video post, she said: “Why isn’t Pope Francis knocking down our doors?”
Watch Clare Linane's powerful video here.
Mr Blenkiron himself also wrote of his frustration at the lack of progress this week.
“It has been left to a group of local health professionals to try to implement a strategy and centre to help improve men’s health in the region.
“And when they approached the Catholic Church for assistance with funding, the answer was no.”
"I feel sickened when I see the inactivity of those who can make this a reality."
The Catholic Bishop of Ballarat Paul Bird again this week appeared to reject the idea of any additional wellbeing support for survivors beyond that already offered.
He highlighted two hospitals in the diocese saying that “in that sense, I would feel that the Catholic Church is already helping men’s health even though there’s not a specific unit as there may be for women’s health issues.
“As we well know, health is an enormously expensive service, and it seems to me that the people who came were thinking of quite an expensive set-up.”
The Courier approached a variety of state and federal politicians to understand whether the broad concept of a men’s health centre in the city had their support.
It is often made too difficult for survivors to navigate the complexities of health, mental health, and social servicesCatherine King, MP
A Victorian Government spokesperson would not be drawn on specific measures, saying they stood with the victims of child sexual abuse” and were “happy to look at further measures that help give them support, recognition or closure.”
Ballarat MP Catherine King, the shadow minister for health, said: “It is often made too difficult for survivors to navigate the complexities of health, mental health, and social services, particularly when they are often made to retell their story.
“We need to find ways to ensure that survivors do not have to retell their story to a new person every time they have to interact with a new agency, potentially causing more harm to themselves every time they do so.
She said that while she had lobbied unsuccessfully for a one-stop counsellor for survivors in Ballarat, she was determined “to work with survivors to find the most effective ways to provide them with the support and services that they need.”
A spokesperson for the federal health department did not address the specific question of a men’s health centre, but highlighted federally funded mental health services available in the region. They said men’s health was an "important priority" for the government.
Men’s health services gap
Campaigners in Ballarat highlighted what they call a “massive gap” within the existing system around both access to men's health care and getting men to ask for help.
Data researched by the Australian Catholic University highlights a few areas of particular concern - perhaps most strikingly an elevated male suicide rate in the city.
The prevalence of family violence is also higher in Ballarat than metropolitan areas and comparable regional areas.
Ballarat does not have a men’s health clinic while Bendigo does, providing check-ups, assessments and support on two days a week.
Advocates say the centre would be free and accessible within business hours. It would employ a nurse or medical professional specialising in men’s health with knowledge of existing services.
The aim would be to support early intervention and link men to the right treatment. It could be psychological or medical, a GP, or a community health centre referral.
There is no exact funding figure. Supporters say it will cost several million dollars to start and plan for it to be self-funding after that.
- Affected by this story? 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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