Cassandra Hogan is helping men reach out

Life coach Cassandra Hogan is shining a light on mental health

Cassandra Hogan has always felt she relates more to men. In high school, she had a tight-knit group of male friends she felt at ease around and they in turn felt comfortable enough to open up to her.

“As they navigated their lives, they’d come to me with different problems,” she smiles. “I just became that person for them.”

It’s hardly surprising. Softly spoken, with a gentle demeanour, Cassandra, 36, exudes a non-judgemental warmth. As she talks about her busy life looking after her small family and running a life-coaching practice out of her home, it’s hard to imagine how she finds time to organise a huge initiative aimed at improving men’s mental health – especially since she’s struggled with anxiety and depression herself. But that’s exactly what she’s doing.

Cassandra has created “he.”, a series of speaking events aimed at providing a community of Kiwi men where everyone feels seen, heard and supported on their journey toward mental wellbeing.

She says it was after she left high school that she realised even the strongest men could be fighting a silent battle.

Cassandra with he. key speakers (from left) Zane, Tai, Kenrick and Sean.

After moving to Perth, a close friend of hers got in touch saying he was in town and wanted to meet up. “He was always the life of the party and an incredible guy – someone everyone loved,” she says fondly.

She hadn’t seen him in years, then just two days after that initial contact, she found out he had taken his own life. “In that moment, it didn’t make sense,” recalls Cassandra. “I couldn’t help thinking, ‘Could I have done anything? Did he contact me as a call for help?’ You question a lot of things. That’s when I realised the everlasting impact suicide has on people and the importance of having open conversations with those you trust.”

These days, Cassandra is a certified life coach in Tauranga with a background in psychology, and spends much of her time listening to people’s problems and helping to navigate them.

“For a while, it was mainly women,” says Cassandra. “Men seem to find it harder to open up and trust someone, to feel safe and know that nothing bad is going happen to them if they talk about their problems. Men often don’t like to admit anything is wrong.”

While many women feel they can ask for help and are aware of different avenues available to them, Cassandra says a lot of men don’t even realise they can ask their GP for advice.

“Whenever men would reach out, they seemed uncertain, like they didn’t know what the next step was,” she explains. “I came across The Shaka Project in Australia and was really impressed because I hadn’t seen anything like it in New Zealand.”

Cassandra signed up as an ambassador to the project, which is designed to ignite conversations around men’s mental health, and the requests for help started pouring in.

With five-year-old son Riley.

“I looked into New Zealand programmes and realised there really wasn’t much here at all. There’s a lot for youth and women, but men just seemed to be left out. That raised alarm bells with me.”

The grim reality is that although Kiwi men report much lower rates of depression and anxiety than women, men still account for around three-quarters of suicides in Aotearoa.

She got on the phone with Sean Phillip from The Shaka Project and asked about doing a men’s mental health event in New Zealand. He was immediately on board with the idea. Then she went to her trusted group of male friends and asked if they’d be interested in hearing other men’s experiences.

“Everyone was like, ‘Yeah, we need this – no one’s done it before. Do it!’ And these are men who have had mental health concerns and struggle from time to time. Then word started getting out there and

it just began to grow.”

The first of the he. events kicks off on 13 October, with four speakers, including Sean from The Shaka Project, Zane Munro from For All The Brothers, former rugby league player Tai Tupou from The Last Chance and Kenrick Smith from Rake Healing. All will talk about their struggles with mental health at the Mount Maunganui surf club, with more events planned to take place in the future.

“I’ve had a lot of interest from other potential speakers, so now I’m looking at running the events biannually in different locations across the country,” says Cassandra. “There have been some requests for Wellington and places further afield too.

“The event has already raised awareness and that’s the main aim – to get people talking. If I can inspire someone to learn some new coping tools and share them with their partner, a friend or their workmates, then that alone can help break the stigma.”

Tickets to the first he. event can be purchased online at he-mensmentalhealth.nz.

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