The Top Blokes Foundation’s mentoring programs tackle interconnecting issues boys and young men are facing, such as suicidal thoughts, mental health, domestic violence, substance abuse, and notions of masculinity.
We spoke to the foundation’s NSW State Manager Daniel Allars (pictured) about its aims to inspire young men to be the best they can be, and to encourage expression and help-seeking: guiding young men to become ‘top blokes’ in our communities.
Tell us about your role and how the Top Blokes Foundation was founded.
The foundation delivers mentoring programs for boys and young men in schools and communities. As NSW State Manager, I oversee program delivery and expansion in the state. Our founder, [Managing Director] Melissa [Abu-Gazaleh], recognised the urgent need to provide support and resources to combat issues such as male suicide, domestic violence, substance abuse, peer pressure, and risk-taking behaviours. Yet, there was very little support tailored to young men. This is how Top Blokes Foundation was established back in 2006.
We understand that changing cultural attitudes requires a sustained, long-term effort, which is why our group mentoring programs are delivered over several months. Each week, our mentors, who are also qualified youth workers, work with young men to develop essential skills and explore attitudes and behaviours in a supportive and safe environment. Through these programs, young men have the opportunity to build a support network of peers and mentors, cultivate positive mental health and well-being habits, and apply these skills in their daily lives.
What are the mission and goals of the foundation?
Our mission is to see more young males leading healthy and safe lives. Our goals are to inspire young men to achieve their full potential and become positive influences within their communities, and to build a male health culture that encourages expression and help-seeking.
We seek to raise awareness about issues that disproportionately affect young males, as well as nurture their growth and accountability to combat the issues that are often perpetrated by males. Our mentors empower young men with strategies that can enhance overall well-being, as well as develop strong foundations to build healthy and respectful relationships with the people around them.
What are the key challenges facing boys and young males?
Suicide is the leading cause of death in young men aged 15-24. Despite strides made in destigmatising emotional expression, there remains a cultural reluctance to exhibit vulnerability and perceived weakness. As males … particularly in our relationships, the fear of rejection and social stigmatisation prevents us from opening up, leading to relationship breakdowns and poor mental health. By surrounding young men with role models that encourage and exhibit healthy communication and help-seeking, we can enhance efforts to destigmatise mental healthcare.
Studies suggest that two-thirds of young men feel societal pressure to conform to certain behavioural standards of ‘real men’. These standards often influence all aspects of their lives, including their own health, their work and their relationships. When this confining definition of masculinity remains unchallenged, young men will carry it with them into adulthood. Top Blokes seeks to build young men’s critical thinking and decision-making skills so they can form their own definitions of what a healthy man is.
Why is it important that we move beyond traditional definitions of masculinity?
Research has demonstrated that males who adhere to traditional notions of masculinity – such as being stoic, hiding vulnerability, asserting control, and prioritising their role as breadwinners – are at greater risk of experiencing suicidal ideation, engaging in bullying behaviours, and experiencing traffic accidents. By providing a safe and supportive space for young men to develop their emotional intelligence and social skills, as well as change their attitudes towards vulnerability, we can promote healthier, more positive expressions of masculinity that benefit not only young men but also their families and communities at large.
What are the key programs the foundation offers?
At Top Blokes, we currently run three evidence-based mentoring programs in schools and communities.
Our primary school program is specifically designed for groups of boys aged 10-13.
Our high school program is a 16-week mentoring program for groups of male students aged 14-17.
Our community program is for groups of young men aged 16-24 who are no longer at school.
What kind of issues do your programs tackle?
Our programs take a holistic approach, addressing a wide range of interconnected topics. If we aim to tackle the problem of poor mental health, we also need to discuss alcohol and drugs, online behaviours, anger, and more. The same holds true if we seek to effectively address domestic violence and foster healthy relationship building – we need to address mental health, discriminatory attitudes, and ideas around masculinity.
Our primary schools’ program covers key topics that this age group is often ill-equipped to handle, such as peer pressure, risk-taking, mental health, online behaviours and more, as well as support for transitioning to high school.
Our high school program covers pertinent topics such as mental health, drugs and alcohol, peer pressure, risk-taking, anger management, healthy relationships, sexual health and more.
Our community program helps young males in their transition to adulthood and to learn to better cope with problems they commonly face. These include anger management, building healthy relationships, gambling, drugs and alcohol, and more.
What are the benefits of your mentoring program? What outcomes have you seen?
EY conducted an independent social impact study on our programs. They found young males are four times better off experiencing the Top Blokes program and having a mentor than young males who don’t have a mentor. Young men who participated in our program experienced improved mental health, decreased antisocial behaviour, and improved academic performance.
Schools also benefited from engaging in the Top Blokes program. The program saved schools nine times the initial cost of implementing the program and helped schools reduce the time they spent dealing with boys’ behaviour. The program also helped increase a young man’s attendance at school and reduced the rates of detention and suspension.
What positive skills does your program help to develop in young males?
Our programs use an early intervention framework to foster critical thinking and positive decision-making skills that help young men lead healthy and safe lives. Our programs’ principles focus on strength-based, harm minimisation and peer-mentoring delivery methods to engage boys at a formative stage in their lives.
Our mentors use their own lived experiences to help young men understand and implement concepts. The group environment allows for varied discussions, accountability and empathy to be nurtured. Within a safe space and among encouraging mentors and peers, young men develop positive habits around help-seeking, consent, peer pressure and more.
Why is prevention-based work integral?
We reach boys during their formative years when they’re learning more about themselves and forming their lifelong habits, values, attitudes and peer groups. At these young ages, much of what they learn will influence how they live their lives and treat the people around them in their adult years. This is why it’s important that we help young men navigate the information they learn and the issues they face, to build a healthy foundation. When we focus on supporting and improving young men’s health, we, in turn, improve men’s health, family health and community health.
What resources are available for retail pharmacy assistants to learn more about the Top Blokes Foundation and support the work you do?
To learn more about Top Blokes Foundation and find ways to support us, visit our website at topblokes.org.au. You’ll find helpful tips and resources on improving your connection with the young men in your life. You can also register for our fun community campaigns and challenges or donate directly to the work we do. You can also follow us on social media @topblokesfoundation.
This feature was originally published in the June issue of RPA e-magazine.