Mens Health

Having been Mens Health Week (June 10-16), I think it’s important to write an article on the awareness and current state of mens health in Australia. Did anyone know it was Mens Health Week last week? It is no hidden fact that men are more reluctant to address their health issues compared to women, who proactively and publicly address their health issues. As a result, today the levels of awareness, understanding and funding for mens health issues, like prostate cancer and mens mental health, lag significantly behind other causes. On top of this, there have been some very recent troubling foundations in our local (NSW) government regarding the future of men’s health and wellbeing. The NSW Ministry of Health has announced that it will not be replacing the current NSW Men’s Health Action Plan with another plan or policy (which expires at the end of June).

Interestingly, the NSW women’s health policy is also up for renewal and it will be replaced, not with a policy but with a new women’s health framework. With this framework for women and nothing in place for men appears to be at odds with the NSW Ministry of Health’s own Equity Policy.

So why should there be some sort of framework put in place for mens health? The statistics don’t lie. Although Australian men’s overall life expectancy and health has improved substantially over the last five decades1, men’s average life expectancy remains substantially lower than that of women’s. Males’ greater vulnerability to various disorders is apparent across cultures, and males are more vulnerable to disorders across the lifespan2.


An overview of men’s health in Australia

Among the main physical health problems that are leading causes of death and/or burden for men in Australia are:
  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Chronic lower respiratory disease

 

  • Adult onset hearing loss
  • Blood and lymph cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Colorectal cancer

 

SNAPSHOT OF MEN’S HEALTH IN AUSTRALIA*    


Population statistics 

  • Males comprise of 49.8% of the Australian population
  • Median age is 36 years
  • 12% are 65 years and over
  • Average life expectancy = 79 years

 


Leading causes of death in men    

  • Ischaemic heart disease (16.9% of total male deaths)
  • Lung cancer (6.8%)
  • Stroke (6.4%)
  • Chronic respiratory disease (4.6%)
  • Prostate cancer (4.1%)

 


Lifestyle risks in men   

  • 68% are overweight or obese
  • 95% do not consume sufficient fruit and vegetables
  • 58% do not exercise sufficiently to obtain health benefits
  • 18% smoke daily
  • 6% drink alcohol at levels that place them at risk and 4% at levels that place them at high risk

 


Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander males    

  • 2.5% of the Australian population is indigenous with a life expectancy of 67 years
  • 46.2% are currently daily smokers
  • 9.3% drink alcohol at levels that place them at high risk
  • 98% suffer some form of psychological distress

 


General health & mental health in men    

  • 31% have a chronic health condition
  • 18% have a disability
  • 48% have experienced mental a health disorder in their lifetime (includes substance use disorders)

 


Conditions with highest burden of disease in men   

  • Ischaemic heart disease (11%)
  • Type 2 diabetes (5%)
  • Anxiety and depression (4.5%)
  • Lung cancer (4%)
  • Stroke (3.9%)

 


Use of health services by men 

  • 16% do not use any Medicare services in a given year
  • 43% of all GP encounters in any year
  • 52% of all emergency department presentations
  • 68% of all alcohol and drug treatment services

 


Males born overseas

  • 27% of males in Australia were born overseas
  • 57.5% risk factor for being overweight or obese if born in non-English speaking countries compared to 70% if Australian-born
  • 26% have experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime

 

*
Statistics sourced from Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2011 and 2012 reports.

Barriers to seeking help

What is contributing to the state of men’s health in Australia? One main factor that continues to disadvantage men is preventable lifestyle and health risk behaviours, which include; diet, alcohol and other substances, and sedentary lifestyles.

Another significant contributing factor is the socialisation and developmental processes that support ‘hegemonic masculinity’ (the gender practice that guarantees the dominant social position of men). Many of the risk-taking behaviours engaged in by males are utilised to display their power and strength, but in the longer term these lead to powerlessness and poor health outcomes3.

This same concept is also evident in men’s help-seeking behaviour. Men are often reluctant to seek medical advice in order to maintain a position of power or not be labelled as weak. In regards to substance use, many men may be primarily engaging in other health risk behaviours and avoiding help-seeking behaviours in order to affirm and legitimise their masculinity4.

So what is the solution to the men’s health crisis? It seems that one way to improve the use of health services by men is to focus on the services themselves. There is an argument suggesting that many services are not male-friendly being often staffed by women, decorated by women for women, and primarily aimed at women and/or children. Health care professionals and providers, even who are male, are not trained in how to engage men and to communicate about health issues. There is a suggestion that one solution is to provide health education to men that addresses the negative consequences of embracing the attitudes associated with the masculine identity5.

As a health professional, I believe we can make a difference with more awareness and discussion around men’s health. There are several high quality and credible websites and organisations that cater for and work tirelessly to educate our community on men’s health issues, but no one knows where to look. It’s alarming to think that each hour, four men die from conditions that are potentially preventable. My mission for men’s health at AHS is to improve the health of men through raising health awareness and encourage regular health checks.

So guys, remember to:

·       Find a GP you are happy with, which will encourage regular health check ups
·       Have an annual check up with your GP
·       Know your body and what is normal for you
·       Be quick to check out any changes with your body with your GP
·       Know the health risks for your age group , and what to do to reduce them
·       Don’t be afraid to seek help or advice even if it is the simplest of concerns/matters
·       Communicate with friends, family and loved ones

The following websites provide a wealth of education and information regarding  men need to know about their health and wellbeing. So be a man and don’t be afraid to take a look and take the steps that can prevent future ill-health.

If you are a male and you have read this to this point, I firstly congratulate you and secondly, I offer you any support at AHS regarding any men’s health issues and if there is further need for referral then I will make sure that any issue is handled delicately and with the utmost confidence.

At AHS, Dietitian Robbie Clark offers a 20 minute health check to measure the modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors that men don’t get checked regularly such as blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, weight, waist circumference and nutrition/diet for $30. This hopefully prompts and encourages men to be proactive about their health. PLUS, I am not a doctor, which may be comforting for a lot of men.

Please call our Dietitan on 9948 2826 or visit our clinic at 9/470 Sydney Rd in Balgowlah servicing the surrounding suburbs of Allambie, Balgowlah Heights, Seaforth, Fairlight and Manly on the Northern Beaches.

References:

  1. AIHW (2011).
    The health of Australia’s males. Cat. no. PHE 141. Canberra: AIHW.
  2. White, A., & Cash, K. (2004). The state of men’s health in Western Europe.
    Journal of Men’s Health and Gender, 1, 60-66.
  3. Ricciardelli, L.A., & Williams, R.J. (2011). The role of masculinity and femininity in the development and maintenance of health risk behaviors. In C. Blazina and D. S. Shen-Miller (Eds),
    An international psychology of men: Theoretical advances, case studies, and clinical innovation (pp.57-98). New York: Routledge.
  4. Ricciardelli, L.A., Mellor, D., & McCabe, M. (2013). The quiet crisis: Challenges for men’s health in Australia.
    InPsych. Retrieved June 14, 2013 from
    http://www.psychology.org.au/inpsych/2012/august/ricciardelli/
  5. Malcher, G.O. (2005). Men’s health, GPs, and ’GPs4Men’.
    Australian Family Physician, 34, 21-23.