Inquiry Increases Awareness of Men’s Health Issues

This piece appeared in The Advertiser, 27 June 2009

Once every year, Movember, supported by the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and beyondblue, highlights men’s health issues and raises money to tackle prostate cancer and depression. It is a great cause and worthy of support.

That is why the Senate Select Committee on Men’s Health was formed – to take a deeper look into men’s health in Australia, to see what is being done for men’s health and what could be done better.

As Chairman of that committee, I, along with some of my Senate colleagues, listened to the thoughts and ideas of professors, researchers, volunteers and constituents who attended our hearings in four different states.

From more than 130 submissions, we read about the current problems that men face in relation to their health, as well as possible solutions.

During the inquiry, we came across some surprising statistics. Men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women. In terms of the most common causes of death for men, it ranks above melanoma and land transport accidents. Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia, and has a similar death rate to breast cancer. More than five Australian men die every hour from conditions that could have been avoided through prevention and treatment.

Men’s health is influenced by a range of factors – including alcohol and drug use, risk-taking behaviour, family breakdown, social attitudes and availability and utilisation of services.

Indigenous men, and those living in rural and remote areas, face additional challenges.

Often men avoid seeking early treatment for a condition and when they do, their visits are often brief and they tend to leave important issues unaddressed.

There are many organisations and programs out there that are already making an enormous difference to the status of men’s health.

We need to build on the work of these organisations and increase awareness of how small changes can make major differences to men’s health and wellbeing.

Even the simple process of having an annual health check would go a long way to improving men’s longevity and help prevent some potentially fatal conditions.

It’s worth repeating that more than five Australian men die every hour from conditions that could have been avoided.

Among a number of recommendations, the committee has called for a longitudinal study of men’s health to gather more information and evidence to help generate solutions. This will mirror a similar study undertaken into women’s health dating from 1995.

A further recommendation was for more research and resources for the training of men’s health nurse practitioners, specialist prostate cancer nurses and a comprehensive information pack for men diagnosed with prostate cancer. An education campaign for high school boys was also recommended.

Better research, resources and awareness can lead to a decrease in incidents of health problems, through prevention and early intervention. In this regard we can learn a lot from the success of the women’s health movement which has done a wonderful job in regard to breast and cervical cancer.

There are many challenges surrounding men’s health in Australia – not least of all the attitude of men themselves. However, by investing in research, prevention, awareness and cure, our men, our families and our society will be better off.

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