“I started attending the Men's Group in February 2020, and I have been doing weekly sessions for over a year now. I struggle with mental health, isolation and disconnection, Benn's weekly topics groups help me stay connected to like-minded people struggling with similar experiences. It is a safe space where I can be myself and discuss my challenges, struggles and successes” – Duan
Isolation and loneliness have a significant exacerbating effect on addiction and mental health. And the opposite holds true as well – addiction may be the cause of isolation.
Growing up in out-of-home care, with parents suffering from addiction or in extreme poverty, most First Step clients have histories of childhood trauma including neglect and abuse. These kinds of experiences impair a person’s ability to form trusting and meaningful relationships later in life.
People recovering from addiction typically cite stress as their primary trigger for cravings. Social connection is one of the best buffers against stress - it relieves the stress of isolation, creates more resources available to solve problems, and relieves health problems linked to chronic loneliness such as high blood pressure, poor immune function and heart disease. These health problems are already aggravated by substance and alcohol use.
People rarely recover from addiction in isolation. Recovery is often closely related to social inclusion and meaningful connection with community. For many people, it means finding new networks of people who can support their journey.
With the exceptional generosity of the Marian and E.H. Flack Trust, First Step ran a men’s group throughout 2020 with great success.
“The Marian and EH Flack Trust has supported First Step for a number of years as we can see the multi-disciplinary approach is making a significant difference to many lives. We are impressed by the brave and innovative approach being taken by First Step to address all issues encountered by their clients.
The Trust was very pleased to contribute to the St Kilda’s men’s group in 2019/20. This program was a resounding success and the online delivery required due to COVID resulted in the program being accessible to even more participants.”
– Alison Beswick, Executive Officer, Marian and E.H. Flack Trust
Facilitated by a mental health/AOD therapist, parts of the group were self-directed by participants and their needs, whilst other elements were structured drawing on a range of treatment interventions including cognitive behavioural therapy, motivational interviewing and psychoeducation. There was a range of topics including values/beliefs, defining family, connection, positive personal characteristics, emotional intelligence, communication, identifying needs versus wants, goal setting, family violence, addiction, mental health, legal issues, social outings and parenting – just to name a few.
Initially run face to face from the Christ Church Community Centre, the group quickly adapted to online sessions when COVID-19 forced a lockdown.