Worrying statistics reveal that one man in every five will die before the age of 65 and almost four in five suicides are by men, with suicide being the biggest cause of death in men under 35 years of age. In addition, men are generally more likely than women to fail to recognise or act on warning signs of poor mental and physical health and may be unable or unwilling to seek help from support services and other people.
Certainly, men remain less likely to visit a pharmacy – with an average of four visits a year compared to women’s 18 visits a year– or their GP to get advice and support for health concerns.
Some 74 per cent of women who are depressed have talked to someone about it, but only 53 per cent of men who are depressed have talked about how they feel. This, combined with the statistics about men’s suicide rates, highlights a growing need for extensive and effective change in supporting men’s health, and their mental health in particular.
The Men’s Health Forum is seeking to achieve this by helping healthcare providers remove barriers and reach out to men rather than waiting for men to engage, as is usually the case. This is the foundation for Men’s Health Week, which is the charity’s annual awareness campaign.
Pieter de Meer, Men’s Health Forum’s communications and public affairs officer, says: “The reason for Men’s Health Week is the same as the existence of the charity. We wanted to get men to act, engage and think about their health. Women are much more active when it comes to health as they’re generally seen as the caregivers of the family, but we really want to target men and get them thinking about their health too.”
Launched in 2002, Men’s Health Week runs in the week leading up to Father’s Day and this year it takes place from 13 to 19 June with the theme ‘beat stress’. “We chose beat stress because it’s important to get people talking about it,” Pieter explains. “Mental health and wellbeing is stigmatised, but these issues are very common. It may not be something you face often, but people around you will be and so everyone deals with mental health issues in some way.”
The Men’s Health Forum has found that there’s a disconnect between the prevalence of men’s mental health issues in the UK and the targeted support that’s available to them. “When we look at statistics we see that four in five suicides are committed by men, the prison population, violent crimes are mostly committed by men, performance in schools is worse, things like psychological distress, missing persons, homelessness, they’re all mostly men,” Pieter explains. “We see that men have these mental health issues, but they’re not addressed properly. We want to change that.”
Pieter acknowledges that this is a tough ask, but with the help of workplaces, councils and healthcare providers, as well as other local organisations, the charity hopes to encourage men to engage. More than 750 organisations partnered with the Men’s Health Forum for Men’s Health Week 2015 and this year the charity hopes for an even greater reach.
“Men are very solution focused – they want an immediate result – and mental health is a very difficult area for this, but pharmacy can help to reach them with solutions,” says Pieter. “Stress has a very big impact on all aspects of life and Men’s Health Week is all about helping men do something about it and providing appropriate advice. So social engagement is important – speaking to a friend or colleague – sleeping is essential with stress, and exercise is good for relieving it too.” These are all areas where pharmacy staff have a wealth of knowledge that they can pass on to customers.
The Men’s Health Forum also has resources available to help pharmacies provide the best support, including monthly ideas newsletters and a Men’s Health Week resource pack. Pieter adds: “Pharmacies should always feel free to contact the Men’s Health Forum and ask anything because we’re always able to share best practices and give hints and tips from what has been successful in other pharmacies in previous years to guide their activities.”
Pieter’s best advice for pharmacies is to make their Men’s Health Week activities really visible using window displays or posters, in order to catch the eye when men are walking past and prompt them to get thinking about their health.
“Research shows that men don’t seek help as often as women, so leaflets can be a good way to get around this,” says Pieter. “It’s difficult to have a conversation out of the blue about mental health, unlike weight for example, so it’s important to have leaflets about beating stress available for people to pick up to read in their own time,” he continues. “It varies from man to man, but mental health concerns are very private, so having the opportunity to read about these issues is important.”
Men’s Health Week activities will also be supported by the launch of a new ‘Beat Stress’ service on the Men’s Health Forum website. This gives people the opportunity to talk to a trained healthcare professional anonymously and ask questions about concerns regarding stress without an appointment.
But the aim of Men’s Health Week is not just to reach out to men and support their mental health. “We also want to learn from the week,” explains Pieter. “We want to understand how men deal with mental health, we want to speak to them and see what appeals to them and what their mental health and wellbeing means to them. We want to better understand men so we can support them better.” Using the campaign in this way will hopefully enable the charity to push for appropriate change and steer support and healthcare services to best support men in leading healthier and longer lives.
Sign up for news, tips and information to help with Men’s Health Week activities at: menshealthforum.org.uk/mhw.