Too often, society sees 'masculinity' as the reasons why men abuse their bodies and minds

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We spend more time worrying about how to get Aussie men to do more housework than we do trying to understand why blokes continue to kill themselves in great numbers each year, according to University of Western Sydney men's health researchers.

Professor John Macdonald and Mr Micheal Woods from the UWS Men's Health Information and Resource Centre (MHIRC) say while we continue to blame men for their poor physical and mental health, we are ignoring the underlying social causes like education, socio-economic status, housing stress and work and family issues.

Speaking in Melbourne this week at the 6th National Men's Health Conference, Professor Macdonald and Mr Woods urge federal and state governments to develop a long-overdue national men's health policy, which addresses the social, cultural and political context for men's health problems.

"We are still far to eager to dismiss the worsening men's health statistics as a result of 'men behaving badly' - bad diets, smoking and drinking too much, getting into fights, not expressing their emotions, taking risks when driving and not visiting the doctor," says Professor Macdonald.

"Too often, society sees 'masculinity' as the reasons why men abuse their bodies and minds, abuse their partners, refuse to seek help from friendly health services, and die young."

"This allows governments, bureaucracies and local services to avoid taking responsibility for men's poor health," adds Mr Woods.

"However this view ignores factors such as early life experience and education, social support and working conditions. There's a wealth of research which shows the poorer and more disadvantaged you are, the worse your health is. Often it's the blokes furthest down the ladder - the unemployed, or the mentally ill - who are in the worst position and have very little choice or influence over their circumstances.

"Saying men's own behaviour is the reason why they are more likely to die earlier from illnesses such as heart disease and lung cancer, and commit suicide and self-harm in great numbers, is just the tip of the iceberg. We need to examine the state of men's health much more closely, to see what lies beneath the surface before we go about trying to fix things."

The experts say this will only come through increasing expenditure on specific men's health programs and developing men's health policies.

"Australian men are virtually dying for a national health policy. Since the early '90s, federal and state governments have flirted with specific policy initiatives for men's health, and while there has been some progress in states like New South Wales and South Australia there has been very little coordinated action in this area," says Mr Woods.

But there have been some positive steps forward, according to Professor Macdonald.

"The AMA's position statement this year was welcomed by men's health advocates - it supported the view that men's relatively poorer health outcomes are often due to a range of societal structures which are not conducive to men's health, notably those around work and fathering," says Professor Macdonald.

The MHIRC researchers say it's time we also recognised the services we do have aren't doing enough to engage with men.

"We know that a lower proportion of males visit their GP than women, but instead of asking how can we adapt men to the health services, we should be asking how can we ensure that the service is adapted to men's needs?," says Professor Macdonald.

"Men's health advocates don't seek a parallel to women's health centres and health programs. Rather, we want to see the use of existing services and structures - but with a focus on preventive approaches, and selective attention to issues for the male population.

"More effective primary health programs for males would help decrease demands on expensive treatment services and help keep men out of hospital in the first place.

"It's hoped that the AMA's leadership on this matter is just one of many policies and frameworks that will come with time, leading towards more male-friendly approaches which can create better health for all."


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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