MAKING CONNECTIONS: TOMNET facilitator Anthony Hegarty chats with member Bevin Bliesner before social distancing came into play and the men kept their connections active online and by phone.
MAKING CONNECTIONS: TOMNET facilitator Anthony Hegarty chats with member Bevin Bliesner before social distancing came into play and the men kept their connections active online and by phone.

Virus crisis can’t break bonds

TOMNET'S motto of "older men supporting older men" has passed with flying colours when put to the unprecedented test of COVID-19 restrictions.

"Our network is focused on creating sustainable peer support networks for life, and it has been invaluable," said general manager Louise Adcock.

But even she was surprised just how well it had worked in practice.

Ringing around participants to check how they were going, one man exclaimed, "You're the fourth person today!" with most having already been on calls or video link to numerous others in the group within the past couple of days.

As the program is open to all men over 50, many members were already computer literate, and they helped those who weren't, or found other ways to stay in touch.

Grandchildren also assisted in setting up some members to join in the Zoom counselling sessions that took the place of weekly physical get-togethers.

TOMNET had just launched a new program working one-to-one with facilitators to help retired men find new opportunities and regain meaning in their life when COVID-19 hit, forcing the initiative online.

Current statistics show that three Australian men over 65 take their life every day - often finding that after a two-year "honeymoon period" immediately following retirement, they lose connections, purpose, momentum, and sink into depression and anxiety.

Complicating factors include losing partners, facing illness or other personal issues, or being forced into retirement through health or redundancy.

"TOMNET's ultimate goal is to turn the period from age 50 onwards into one of the most satisfying times in a retired man's life," president Stan Carroll said.

Part of being able to do that is just having the vocabulary to say how you are feeling, something men are often reluctant to do, or have little practice in doing, ingrained with the "suck it up and get on with it" philosophy.

It's also about finding a safe environment in which to share stories and connect emotionally over issues many have been "hanging on to for a long time", often thinking they were the only one feeling this way.

"We know walking in the door is the hardest, but it's worth it," Stan said.

In fact, eight out of 10 participants report they wish they had found TOMNET sooner to "get their confidence and spark back".

It is not just about the weekly meetings but the other organised and unscheduled activities that branch from that.

Louise said these days retirement can last almost as long as your working life, yet it is given far less thought and preparation.

TOMNET helps men think "outside the square" about their skills and interests, how to get involved in new opportunities like volunteering and establishing a new social network and "mates who rely on each other".

The fact that so much had been achieved by phone and video link as a result of necessity in dealing with COVID-19 restrictions, Louise said, was an exciting prospect for TOMNET's remote growth into other areas.

To find out more about TOMNET, phone 4638 9080, email admin@tomnet.org.au or go to http://tomnet.org.au/.