POWER OF connection

Speak and Share founders Ben, Nathan and Mason
Photos Gary Sissons & Supplied

To be able to share feelings vulnerably and be heard genuinely is the greatest support a person can receive. Many people struggle to share their feelings for fear of being judged. The damage an adage like ‘boys don’t cry’ can do is tragic. All humans cry. Imagine what a better world it would be if people defaulted to compassion instead of judgment.

This is the kind of world three twenty-something best friends, Ben Farish, Nathan Scagliarini and Mason de Wit want to build. To that end, they founded not-for-profit mental health organisation, Speak and Share. What they have already created could be a game changer for generations to come.

Growing up on the Mornington Peninsula, they attended local schools and played footy together. It kept them connected to local community. All three went to university to study Education. They are now qualified Health and Physical Education teachers.

During Victorian COVID lockdowns, they escaped to the Northern Territory to live in Darwin and play footy with the Tiwi Bombers. Returning home to teach locally, they saw first-hand the damaging impact of lockdown’s social isolation on youth. “Social anxiety was the biggest issue and it’s still impacting youth today. FOGO (fear of going out) is real,” Ben says.

The trio of friends had plenty to contend with in their own lives. The death of a friend to suicide, the loss of a family member in a workplace accident and parental separation all had deep impacts. Their grief and loss experiences sparked the idea for Speak and Share.

“During our challenges, we all leant on each other. We learned how powerful vulnerability is by supporting each other, speaking and sharing about those emotions which for a large part of our lives we hadn’t been open to doing,” Nathan says. “Talking about feelings helps you realise that a lot of people experience similar things. It normalises the conversation around mental health,” Ben says. Hence their slogan, ‘A Problem Shared is a Problem Halved’.

Speak and Share run program for schools, sporting clubs and workplaces with targeted programs to help people open up in a safe space and share those tougher conversations around mental health. Their programs have been running since 2021. They are already getting a lot of positive feedback.

Their grief and loss experiences sparked the idea for Speak and Share.

“Research shows about three million Australians are struggling with mental health. The turbulent years of school, pressures of work, family life and the fallout from COVID have created an even more urgent need for wider support services,” Ben says.

“In schools, we do hands-on activities to get kids moving. We speak and share about how their mental health is tracking and how they get through it when they’re not travelling well,” Ben says. “We’re all about ‘preventative mental health’. We provide the time, environment and questions to get things started,” Mason adds.
“Mental health doesn’t discriminate. It affects all ages and genders,” Mason says. Nathan adds, “There are some generational barriers though. Some have more trouble opening up because of their upbringing – particularly men over 40.” The numbers are clear. This demographic experience the highest rates of suicide in Australia.

“Just being there for someone is very powerful. You don’t have to have the answers right away. Just finding a way for someone to open up in a safe space and share is so important. Everyone needs someone to lean on, someone to listen. Then, if it’s necessary, we can connect them with the right professional support right away,” Mason says.

It’s not all about tough conversations Mason points out, “When we think of mental health, we often think of mental ill health, but it’s not always the case. We need to celebrate the good things in our lives and the things we’re achieving to lift up our friends and families.”

People are becoming more aware of mental health issues so their timing is right. It is funny to think that the Speak and Share journey started on Instagram with skits that made people laugh while subtly informing them about impactful issues. That grew into community events, such as their annual Fun Run and then progressed into schools, clubs and workplace programs.

Ben, Nathan and Mason would like to expand Speak and Share nation-wide. “We want to create an everlasting change in the culture of mental health so people don’t have to suffer in silence,” Ben says.

While their concept sounds simple enough, what sets them apart is the genuineness and sensitivity these three young men bring the mental health conversation. If they are a glimpse of the future for young people, that future looks a whole lot brighter.


Peninsula Essence – April 2024