Mark Le Messurier, the 2022 Senior South Australian of the Year
A wild, rewarding ride supporting the younger generations
Mark Le Messurier, the 2022 Senior South Australian of the Year, has dedicated his working life to supporting young people he affectionately calls the ‘tough kids’: children who for all kinds of reasons do life tougher than most.
After a 20-year teaching career, Mark opened a private practice in the late 1990s where he continues to mentor children and teenagers who need support beyond the school system.
Through workshops, speaking engagements and the 18 books he has authored, Mark provides coaching and education to the parents and teachers of these children.
I have always gravitated to kids who do not fit into school easily, have difficulties around engagement and concentration, who live with physical difficulties.
I have also gravitated to their parents and supporting them to understand the emotional intelligence of their kids and to see an optimistic future.
In a career where you have worked with children for over 40 years, what has the younger generation taught you?
What don’t children teach you?! More than anything they teach you the importance of an authentic relationship. Once you have secured a really trusting relationship you can move mountains together.
Children have also taught me patience, resilience, and a belief that human beings innately are very good and want to find the best for themselves.
Often when this doesn’t happen it is because they haven’t been provided the right circumstances to thrive.
How has your work made you proud?
When we hold our ‘What’s the Buzz’ program (designed to teach children and young adolescents the skills to think socially, regulate emotions, positively problem solve and help friendships work) their parents wander across to The Goody Hotel for a coffee and chat.
Afterwards, quietly, they will say to me it is the best time for them as they have a chance to get wisdom from people who’ve worked out how to navigate the NDIS or chat with people who don’t judge because they’re on the same journey.
This is a moment that I didn’t engineer but bringing people together who can make a difference for each other makes me so proud.
No matter age, what do you think is important to every individual?
I think what all human beings look for is to belong.
According to the World Health Organisation, anxiety and depression – inspired by loneliness – will be the leading illnesses in all countries by 2030. Learning the skills to connect with others, develop friendships and feel a sense of belonging is much more than a ‘good feeling’, it is literally lifesaving.
This belonging can take place in small or large groups, it does not matter, but we need to feel like we matter and have a purpose.
What does a good life mean to you?
It is pretty easy for me – having connections to people and making a difference. Having my family close is important.
It can be tricky balancing work and family time because my wife Sharon, daughter Noni and I are all involved in the practice. Sharon runs the practice, doing all the hard work in the background and Noni has taken our ‘What’s the Buzz?’ program to new heights relentlessly connecting older teens and young adults. While our eldest daughter Kim lives in Memphis, she, her husband and our three grandchildren remain emotionally close.
A good life also means loving the three whippets and our friends.
My clients are very important too. I don’t run my life like my clients are just at work and when I’m home, I forget them.
There are often conversations that need to be had on the weekend or evening because their needs are ongoing.
Is there a prominent issue currently impacting children?
Mental health is through the roof. The Women’s and Children’s Hospital Emergency Department will tell you there is a 41% increase in the number of young people being presented to emergency with mental health difficulties.
Anxieties around COVID have certainly been a factor in this increase. It’s another issue altogether – child neglect.
I am really glad the stories that were so prominent in early 2022 hit the media the way that they did, because when you work in this space you see how prevalent it is.
What is your advice for older people who notice a difference in the behaviour of children in their life?
When you see a child’s behavior or emotional demeanour change, there is usually a reason. If you notice it over a period of time then it’s really logical to assume something has happened in their life that’s causing them to feel like this.
The first thing to do is reinforce the trusting relationship that you have and open the dialogue, seeing whether a conversation might ensue. I’ve learned with kids it’s often your first attempt that fails but don’t give up – it might be three, four weeks later and suddenly they will open up for conversation.
Often the issues are simple such as their best friend has moved to another friendship group. If you come across issues that are more serious, there is lots of help in the community such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).
You often have to make the distinction, ‘is this something that we can work on or is this something that’s beyond my capacity?’
Share with us your experience of being named 2022 Senior South Australian of the Year.
Initially I felt really embarrassed, incredibly unworthy and humbled. Now I’ve had months to sit with it, I am ever so grateful. Two families who I worked with, who are friends, nominated me.
My life has never had a strategic plan. I’ve followed my heart and it’s been a wild ride to help others understand children with diverse needs.
At the Australian of the Year Awards, held on Australia Day in Canberra, Val Dempsey took out the Senior Australian of the Year and I was really, really happy that she was picked, she has volunteered with St John’s Ambulance for 50 years.
In the lead up to the Awards, you get to meet each state recipient in the different categories, Australian of the Year, Young Australian of the Year et cetera and it was fantastic to hear the work they do.
How do the years ahead look for you?
I’ve got this personality where I am always looking into the future and looking at new challenges. I still have another book in me, which will make it my 19th. I am thinking this will be a simple handbook for parents, almost a tick list, on supporting the best mental health in children.