Two networks of Sydney Catholic Schools Family Educators drew big crowds for events supporting men’s mental health during “Movember.”
Hundreds of men attended networking events held by the Sutherland Shire and St George Family Educator networks on 27 and 15 November to hear guest speakers discuss their perspectives on men’s mental health, with the hope of changing the stigma around the topic.
The Family Educators initiative seeks to assist families by providing events, information sessions and pastoral and practical support.
They aim to strengthen family faith, connecting them with the religious life of schools and parishes.
Consisting of nine local Catholic primary schools—including St Catherine Laboure, Gymea—the Shire network of family educators held their “Footy, Faith and Friends” event at Gymea Hotel.
The event attracted 200 fathers of primary school children, local parishioners, wider community members and men’s support groups from the Shire.
Former rugby league player James Graham spoke to the audience on his own experiences with mental health and discussed not letting pride stand in the way of seeking help, while psychologist and owner of Endeavor Wellness Joel Curtis touched on how men can get help.
Providing the spiritual perspective was Fr Dan McCaughan, who encouraged the men to consider the importance of a relationship with God for their mental health.
“The words of James and Joel provide both a psychological and lived framework to talk about Christ and how he gives hope through his passion, showing that our interior darkness is never to be our identity or our whole story,” Fr Dan said.
“The tragedy of suicide is not so much caused by the pain of mental illness, but by the loss of hope that often accompanies it.”
Earlier in the month, the St George Network of Family Educators hosted their event, a men’s business night titled “Faith, Friendship and Food.”
The evening was held at St Declan’s Catholic Primary School in Penshurst, where fathers and grandfathers came together to hear speakers give their personal testimonies on how faith, family and work helped to foster positive mental health.
“Through hearing about the experiences of others we realise that our journeys have similar challenges and joys,” said SCS education officer for Archdiocesan liturgical music and speaker on the night, John Burland.
Other notable speakers included local GP and parishioner of St Declan’s, Dr Adrian Lo, parish priest from the order of Missionaries of God’s Love, Fr Josh Whicker, and Australian comedian and faith children’s book author, Anthony Salame.
Anthony noted the fruits of a collective of men gathered for the same cause, benefitting “from the event by not only listening to other speakers, but also being in the presence of fathers that share the same love of faith.”
The impact of the communal gathering was likewise felt in the shire event by organiser Cathy Rizzo.
“As a wife and mother of teenage boys, this family and faith initiative instilled confidence that we are moving forward as a community in recognising the importance of men openly expressing their mental health challenges,” she said.
The success of the two events in networking and positive discussion around men’s mental health led also to principals of St Catherine’s and St Declan’s to recognise the influential work of the growing Family Educators Network project and the need for its continued growth.
“I am confident that the event will promote more dialogue around such a critical issue,” said St Catherine principal, Patrick Marrison.
“The men’s business night is a wonderful example of the work being done by the Family Educator network in connecting families and men into the faith,” said outgoing St Declan’s principal Peter Cranney.
“The Family Educator plays an important and enormous for the school, parish and parents.”
With thanks to Barbara Perry and Guy Zangari.