Men’s health – It takes more than telling blokes they are doing it wrong

| June 11, 2013

The health and wellbeing of the male population is not something that is widely discussed in our society. David Thompson from the Men’s Health Information and Research Centre outlines factors to create health-promoting settings for men and boys in Australia.

Despite the widespread perception that men and boys in Australia are either (a) ‘just fine’ or (b) the sole cause of everything that’s wrong with this country, the reality is that male health is not that great considering the wealth and living standards we have.

Consider these statistics that in Australia:

  • 75% of suicides are by males and accounts for 2.3% of male deaths
  • Prostate cancer takes the lives of more men than breast cancer kills women
  • Heart disease takes the lives of almost twice as many men as women
  • Three times as many men die by accident than do women
  • 90% of workplace fatalities are male.

Why is this? What is different about Australian men’s lives that accounts for these rates?

If you listen to most media stories, the reasons are generally assumed to be either that ‘men don’t care about their health, ‘they won’t go to the doctor’, ‘they won’t talk about their feelings’ or some other convenient way of attaching blame for these outcomes.

This is just plain wrong. Convenient but wrong.

Thankfully, we are seeing a real and definite change in the way that we are talking about blokes and their health. Finally, there is more and more awareness that there are some real reasons why the jobs we expect men to do and the messages that we give men about their place in the world actually result in poorer health outcomes over the lifespan.

So we need to continue to get past this idea that ‘it’s your fault if you’re crook’.

What we need is a more intelligent and reasoned response that actually asks what men and boys need from health, from health services and from the environments they are expected to live and work in. Health is by nature a complex topic and doesn’t lend itself to ‘one-size-fits-all’ responses.

What we need are approaches that recognise what impacts on men’s health and that these impacts are usually a result of how and where men live rather than what they do. Jobs, communities, income, food choices, access to health services and other external factors actually affect people’s health and if we can create environments where health is a result, then we will actually see improvements in health outcomes.

That’s why the rise of the Men’s Shed movement has worked – because it’s about creating engaging, health-promoting settings that work on men’s terms.

So if we are serious about men’s health like we are serious about women’s health and children’s health, let’s start with some basic principles:

  • Let’s stop taking an approach that starts by blaming men. Instead of ‘they won’t go the doctor’, think of it as ‘maybe they have fears about the way that they’ll be treated or that they’ll be diagnosed with something terrible’. Then maybe the doctor can understand that men have communication and information styles that aren’t the same as women or children.
  • Instead of ‘they won’t talk about their feelings’, think of it like ‘the use of words to describe this feeling is very difficult right now but if I can have some time and space to consider what I feel without pressure, I might be able to share it a little better’.
  • Instead of ‘you should have exercised more’ let’s get busy getting active workplaces, active communities, effective transport and proper urban planning in place so that active living becomes a normal part of the day instead of an add-on.

Men’s Health Week aims to encourage local people to create events that bring in blokes and boys and their families, and then promote those settings where conversations about life, health, wellbeing and the real state on mind can happen more normally.

It’s much less telling them to get healthy and a lot more making happen in ways that work for men, women and kids of all ages.

The University of Western Sydney is grateful to the support of the Department of Health and Ageing and the NSW Ministry of Health for funding Men’s Health Week and related programs.



  1. anthony001

    December 17, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    Me, Myself, and Them: A Firsthand Account of One Young Person’s

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