MEN'S HEALTH: by Babette FrancisNews Weekly
Male suicide - the silent epidemic
, July 11, 2009
Australian men commit suicide at four times the rate of women, a parliamentary inquiry has found.
Other research has consistently shown that men lag behind women in almost all health indicators and consequently are more likely to die from cancer, stroke and heart disease.
In May, a Senate select committee on men's health, chaired by Senator Cory Bernardi (Liberal, SA), published its report on the availability and effectiveness of education, support and services for men's health.
Senator Bernardi said at the time: "Men's health in Australia tends to take a backseat in the minds of Australians.
"Throughout the inquiry, the committee heard from organisations that are doing great work for men's health. However, Australians' awareness of men's health issues is still lacking and more needs to be done to tackle some of the alarming statistics.
"One such statistic is that men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women. [It is the 10th major cause of death for men]. The report contains recommendations that the committee hopes will raise awareness of men's health issues in the community. ...
"Recommendations include the introduction of a comprehensive information pack for men with prostate cancer, the development of a standard annual health check for men. ...
"It's about recognising that prevention is better than cure. It's about looking after the well-being of all Australian men and ensuring they have a healthy future."
Following the Senate committee's report, Warwick Marsh of the Dads4Kids Fatherhood Foundation convened the inaugural Men and Fathers Health Summit at Parliament House, Canberra on June 17.
This writer, along with more than 30 representatives of men's and father's groups, healthcare professionals and pro-family groups from all over Australia, was invited to the summit. Among the parliamentarians who came were Senators Bernardi and Judith Troeth, and MPs Peter Costello, Kevin Andrews, Alby Schultz and John Murphy.
While the summit commended the Senate report, it was the delegates' unanimous view that the Government should set up an inter-departmental agency - an office for the status of men and fathers - to co-ordinate a men's health policy. The health problems of men, including a five-year lower life expectancy than women's, cannot be dealt with solely by the Health Department, but cut across a number of areas such as education, employment, family law and the operations of the Child Support Agency.
In my own contribution to the summit I referred to schoolboys having higher rates of illiteracy than girls. Even if the government provided excellent health services, men who were functionally illiterate would not know how to access these services or how to avail themselves of preventative health care policies.
Warwick Marsh called on the government to address "the social determinants of men's health" and to provide an action plan to address the following issues:
• Men die five years earlier than women.
• Indigenous men die 20 years earlier than non-indigenous men.
• Men commit suicide at four times the rate of women.
• Indigenous men's suicide rate is 70 per cent higher than non-indigenous men's.
• At almost every level of health statistics, men's health is far worse than women's.
• Indigenous men die from diabetes at 500 per cent the rate of non-indigenous men.
• Indigenous men suffer the poorest health in Australia.
Speakers at the Men and Fathers Health Summit included Dr Tim O'Neill GP, a Canberra medical practitioner and men's health advocate; Dr Elizabeth Celi, a Melbourne psychologist, health trainer, author and public speaker; and Professor John Macdonald of the University of Western Sydney, who is both president of the Australian Men's Health Forum and co-founder of the recent International Men's Health Week (June 15-21, 2009).
Particularly memorable were representatives of Lone Fathers, Dads in Distress, Fathers 4 Equality and others. They told of the tremendous sense of loss and injustice many fathers feel at decisions by family law courts and the Child Support Agency, and how orders for access to their children are not enforced.
Most poignant was the example of a father who was ordered not to send a birthday card to his child, not because he had done anything wrong, but because it made the mother feel "uncomfortable".
Pastor Eric Trezise OAM, who has been at the forefront of the Suicide Safety Network, spoke of the appalling incidence of suicide in his region on NSW's Central Coast, and suggested that statistics are under-reported by as much as 25 per cent in rural areas. Suicide is the only form of violent death which does not require an inquest, he said.
He added that if as many whales were beached it would make front-page news; if as many soldiers died in Afghanistan, our troops would be swiftly brought home; but the desolation of men who take their own lives goes unnoticed.
The Rudd Government has foreshadowed a men's health policy. It cannot be implemented soon enough.Babette Francis wrote a minority report in 1977 as a member of the Victorian committee on equal opportunity in schools.