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Chisholm TAFE apprentices will be part of a new initiative, Change Our Brains, aimed at preventing suicide and to raise awareness around mental health problems among young tradespeople. The program will equip young men (and women) with tools they can tap into to better communicate their emotions, reach out if they need help and where to turn if feeling down. 

The program has been put together by Chisholm trades teacher Shaun Gledhill with the help of Headspace, Tomorrow Man ( Wesley Mission, Life is Worth Living Suicide Prevention Program, employers, parents, teachers and students.

Having felt the impact of suicide personally, Shaun has lost close mates and one of his students in October 2016. Being hit especially hard in October Shaun felt something needed to be done, particularly for the vulnerable cohort of young male trades students on the Mornington Peninsula and surrounds.

Shaun says “The program has been set up to be driven and moderated by tradies for tradies” adding “when young person leaves school and enters a trade they are in limbo and often they don’t how to ask or where to go for support”.

“Often universities and secondary school students have access to support networks and programs that TAFE students do not currently have”.

Gledhill says “Feedback from employers is that we are great at teaching students hands on trade skills but students lack necessary life skills, especially around self-help, mindfulness and mental health. As a community organisation we have an obligation to give back and support the community through programs like Change Our Brains”.

The first part of the program will involve investing in the emotional capital of staff to provide TAFE educators with the skills and resources needed to make an impact on vulnerable students.

“By investing in the mental health and skills of our staff this will allow us to provide a happy healthy educational experience to pass onto students. To do all we can do has got to be better than doing nothing at all” continues Mr. Gledhill.

Another aspect of the program will create a network of student and staff volunteers as Manbassadors or Maambassadors to provide initial peer support referral system. Eventually a model such as this could filter into the community with netball, football or sports clubs offering similar support systems.

Tomorrow Man (Founder), Tom Harkin (Director), Paige Harkin and facilitators Tom Bell, Zac Prior and Ryder Susan work with ages 16 plus in secondary colleges, TAFEs, universities, trades workplaces and sports clubs. Tomorrow Man featured on the ABC documentary series, Man-Up and conduct community and corporate workshops around the notion of what it is to be a man today and tomorrow.

Tomorrow Man will facilitate workshops as a pilot for several Chisholm TAFE trades groups. Each workshop will teach the core concepts of (BRAINS) boundaries, rules, attitudes, intent, notion and speak. The ultimate goal is to have the program embedded across all trade classes as an additional part of the apprentice training.

Tom Harkin says “We are not all the same, not programmed the same and we don’t all think the same”.

“For some students successful outcomes aren’t always about getting high marks, getting a new job or even passing. For someone that is suffering, it’s small milestones that can sometimes mean getting just getting out of bed in the morning”.

Tom Harkin, Tom Bell and Zac Prior all grew up on the Mornington Peninsula. None of them initially set out to work with men, but now run workshops with men of all ages and demographics, from business leaders, to elite sportsman, to high school students. These workshops are not only being delivered in our back yard on the Mornington Peninsula, but on a national scale as well.

Harkin, Bell and Prior all grew up facilitating workshops with AFL footballer Jim Stynes. Harkin says “Stynes was strong, yet he could talk openly and honestly and wasn’t afraid to show his emotions”. Nowadays, that’s what Tomorrow Man facilitators are teaching the men of Australia, how to have real, open, honest conversations, how to sit with mates and really be there for them, no matter what the circumstance, something that our education systems hasn’t yet been able to do.   

Alarming statistics surround Australian males, especially tradespeople and suicide. With tradies being seven times more likely to die by suicide than a workplace accident, one in two Australian men say they have no close friends to turn to for help. Suicide rates for males 15 – 24 tripled in the past thirty years with suicide being the leading cause of death for me aged between 15 – 44.

“We need to disrupt the aussie male stereotype and this is done within a social/peer dynamic. Teaching guys how to have conversations that allow us to talk honestly and emotionally in a tactful and healthy way”.

Harkin speaks admirably of Gledhill and his work to get a program like Change Our Brains up and running, “Shaun is a powerhouse of momentum. He makes it look easy but it takes a lot of courage to step up and instigate change”.

All Chisholm students have access to personal and careers counselling and other support services through the Learning Support Services department. Chisholm apprentices will commence the Change Our Brains workshops in 2017.

Tomorrow Man work with educational organisations ranging from high school to university. Sporting clubs and bodies both amateur and professional and diverse, male dominated workplaces from blue collar to corporate boardroom. All their workshops are offered Australia wide visit to find out more.