Experts believe that if healthcare practitioners had a clearer understanding of men’s differing health needs, healthcare promotions and services could be more effective, writes Leanne Philpott
You might say men get a raw deal when it comes to health; typically they die earlier, have a higher suicide rate and are more likely to present to the emergency department than their female counterparts. However, it’s not all doom and gloom; inroads are being made in the area of men’s health.
In 2010 The Australian National Men’s Health Policy was introduced, encouraging all males to take individual action to improve their own health as well as focusing on appropriate government action, cross-sectoral activity, and initiatives that can be undertaken by the health system and community to improve the health of Australian males.
With regards to pharmacy, experts in the field of men’s health admit there are barriers that prevent some men from seeking help, but they all agree there exist important opportunities that would enable more men to access preventative health, wellbeing services and resources.
Real men do talk
One of the biggest myths when it comes to male health is the belief that ‘men don’t talk about their health concerns’. According to Peter Strange, nurse practitioner at Bendigo Community Health Services, “Men are interested in their own health and they will engage in positive health practices if they are encouraged to do so and are in an environment which supports positive health practices.”
Strange says engagement is the first step towards better health outcomes for men. After all, when you consider the top threats to the health of Australian men—suicide (mental health), heart disease, lung cancer, bowel and prostate cancer—most of which have modifiable risk factors and can be addressed in a positive way through screening, lifestyle advice and support.
Strange has been working in the area of men’s health for more than a decade and has successfully integrated men’s community and workplace health promotion initiatives with a male-friendly health clinic to better address the needs of rural men. He explains that there are certain practices that will encourage men to engage with healthcare promotions, as well as actions that will effectively deter them.
“People tend to think that men can’t talk about their health but in the right situation they do and are really quite interested in it. In a pharmacy situation, one of the problems is confidentiality. You might have a guy come in, but if he’s stood out in the open in the shop and it’s a personal issue then that becomes a problem because he’ll quickly disengage and won’t engage at all.
“It’s important for pharmacists and their staff to spot these people and guide them into an area, a little room, where they can talk in private. This is a really important point, particularly for engaging young males.
“I’ve been running a health clinic in TAFE for apprentice tradesmen for the last two years and the one question they will often ask is, “is this conversation confidential?” Their issues are mainly sexual health, mental health such as depression, anxiety, work-related stress, and drug and alcohol use, so if you don’t guarantee that confidentiality they’re not so willing to talk. However, if you can guarantee confidentiality then they’re willing to discuss those difficult subjects.
“A confidential room in pharmacy is an important point about engagement as is encouraging clinicians to ask the question. We’re very good at taking their blood pressure and talking about the easy stuff but men require to be prompted; they need to be asked. That’s what I’m finding in my clinics so every guy that comes in gets asked a sexual health question and a mental health question to see how they’re travelling. Even in a private setting, these men will often not bring the topic up unless a clinician prompts it.
“Ask the question directly without any embarrassment; each individual is different but it requires a judgement call to know how to draw information from someone or how to find the appropriate way to encourage them and help them feel confident and comfortable enough to open up.”
Strange explains that he’ll often start by making conversation—to help get a feel for how they’re feeling and which way to take the line of questions. He stresses that no matter what judgment you make about the person, it’s always better to ask the question.
“Don’t not go there because of a little embarrassment; the more you bring the topic up the easier you’ll find it to work out ways, lines and methods to engage the guys. Some methods won’t work but you’ll soon find some good techniques.”
He adds that knowing who to refer to and having local resources at hand is important and something pharmacists and their staff can be armed with.
Rules of engagement
John Macdonald, professor at the University of Western Sydney and director of the Men’s Health Information and Resource Centre (MHIRC), has been running The Mount Druitt Shed Suicide Prevention drop-in centre for men for a number of years.
He says, “It’s not that men don’t or won’t talk about their health because they do and evidence has shown that men will talk about health matters with their mates—but men don’t tend to be as forthcoming as women in seeking help from health professionals.
“There’s clear evidence of this. Recently we had a female social worker come to the centre to do a work placement. I asked what she knew about men and she told me that men don’t talk and aren’t in touch with their feelings.
“I asked her to turn around and there stood a man, who often comes into the centre, talking to a mental health worker. The man was very at ease and was talking away and the counsellor was engaged with him. This was proof that the stereotype is just that, a stereotype.”
Part of the process of engaging men needs to be making them feel welcome, relaxed and in a comfortable space. “Many pharmacies are focussed on products for women so the man will go in, if at all, and get out as quickly as possible,” says Macdonald.
He says having the occasional window display as well as brochures available that are associated with men’s health needs could help show local males that you’re not all about cosmetics and women’s health. “Anything that depicts men and health could provoke a man to seek advice from the pharmacy.”
Strange says specifically designed health messages could be key to engaging with younger males. “We don’t want to separate men’s health from women’s health but men do require a different way to engage them, as do the different age groups. What we’re not doing well and haven’t been for some time is that process.”
He offers the following advice:
- Don’t be afraid to invent a reason for men to come into your pharmacy
- Experiment and keep experimenting until you find an approach that works
- Ask the question and give them time to respond
- Recognise that you’re going to have to work twice as hard to get men to engage but it’s well worth it
“People often ask how we get men to come out to us; the answer is that we give them a reason to get off the couch and engage and often it’s entertainment. We offer 80 per cent entertainment when we do a men’s health event and 20% health message.
“Unfortunately it’s not a case of ‘build it and they will come’ — ”You have to build rapport and interest within the community. I get lots of referrals now.”