From Advocacy to Action: On Launching the New Canadian Centre for Men and Families
by Denise Fong, Outreach Director, Canadian Centre for Men and Families I first came to know about the work of the Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness through Lynne Macdonell, an independent therapist who we had invited to speak at the University of Toronto last month. Lynne’s talk was given as part of a public lecture series in October hosted by our UofT Men’s Issues Awareness campus group, and focused on mental health in university-aged men.
Lynne had been regularly facilitating a group for adult survivors of childhood sexual trauma with the CCAA called, “A Time for Men.” At the Canadian Centre for Men and Families we recognized that she must have valuable knowledge to share about the process of healing from abuse as it pertained to male survivors.
Moreover, we wanted to achieve our organizational objective to encourage inclusivity in society. We believed that her talk would raise awareness around the fact that men can suffer from the effects of childhood abuse just as women can. Insight could be shared on how the painful psychological and social intrusions of experienced trauma would not be concerned with gender.
Overall, it appeared that our objective of building inclusivity was achieved. The event was well attended and it sparked further interest in men’s mental health and inquiry about our programs.
Since hearing Lynne speak, however, I have been wondering a lot about the work that we do. As one of the very few charitable organizations in Canada advocating for the health and well-being of men and boys, I wondered whether we were truly doing all that we could to help those in need. I wondered whether gender and all of its implications for a healthy society was something to consider only after the aim of promoting inclusivity and a balanced discussion.
The task of bringing balance to the conversation on gender remains challenged today. But what happens though when we discuss subjects as serious as childhood abuse and dysfunctional family relationships without truly examining the role of gender? When the essential building blocks of our society are challenged and our ability to produce strong, trustworthy bonds among family members is crippled, would we be willing to ask deep questions? I feel that our willingness to keep asking questions is vital to our ability to grow as a society and to effect change, even if some of these questions may appear to be inconvenient ones!
Justice and “The System”
The CCAA’s Public Safety Advocacy program grew as a response to the injustice of “the system” when early release from prison was assigned to one of the perpetrators in the Maple Leaf Gardens’ child sexual abuse scandal.
We are not dissimilar in the regard for justice. Men have consistently fallen through the cracks of the mental health, criminal law, employment and family health “systems,” and we have observed its impact on society at large. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, with whom we partnered with last month to produce the talk, “Men and Suicide,” at the University of Toronto, men commit suicide at a rate four times higher than that of women. In Canada, one in six men have been sexually abused or assaulted. That’s three million boys, male youth and men. The website,www.1in6.ca, is now Canada’s knowledge centre on male sexual trauma and recovery. But prior to this development, if a man you love had been sexually abused or assaulted, life was made more difficult for him because of a lack of support resources. It can be equally difficult for you if you are a partner, parent, son or daughter, sibling or friend to him, yet we currently have few resources to support men and their loved ones in need. Moreover, social service agencies from all perspectives need access to the latest research, therapies and “current thinking” on men’s issues in order to do their work with knowledge and integrity.
A thorough examination of the state of mental health and men in Canada has been incomplete for a long time. To progress towards a healthier society, we may no longer ignore the marginalization of the kind of trauma that men experience. I can only hope that the general public and media recognize the gaps we generate in society when men’s issues are not openly considered or appropriately addressed.
Canadian Centre for Men and Families
On November 16th, 2014, the Canadian Centre for Men and Families (CCMF) opened to the public. Located next to Ryerson University and the University of Toronto, it will be the first facility of its kind in Toronto, in providing resources, workshops, support groups and counselling for boys, men and their families.
The mandate of the CCMF is to address the impact on families due to the current “Boys’ Crises” in education, employment, health, legal issues, divorce and the family court system. There is finally an open, safe and inclusive place for those seeking to reasonably address issues such as: grief, isolation, depression, childhood abuse, sexual assault, trauma, domestic violence, anger, fathering, life choices, and legal aid.
Women are welcome also. As a woman myself concerned with men’s issues, I am made more aware each day of how every one of my relationships and life choices have been influenced by the status and well-being of men in my community.
After all, I would not be doing the important work of building community relationships if I did not understand fully what it means to be concerned for the men in my life. I wish there were resource centres like the CCMF when I was a child, distressed over how my father often hid his depression. He is also an adult survivor of severe childhood physical and emotional abuse.
And I wondered why my father never sought help from others. I knew in my heart, however, what stigma had to do with it. Today, I am helping to change societal and cultural attitudes toward the mental health of men in a way that I never dreamt I could before. Now that the CCMF has launched, I feel that a massive stake in the ground has been drawn. We could not have done it without a good deal of luck, hard work, and the greatest collaboration among concerned family members and compassionate people everywhere, across Canada and even around the globe.
Denise Fong is Outreach Director for the CCMF. She leads the University of Toronto Men’s Issues Awareness Society and is a Communications Specialist for both organizations in Toronto. She can be reached at email@example.com.