10 steps to improving men’s health

Sara Richards offers some invaluable advice on encouraging men to take better care of themselves

Male identity is strongly tied up with how men earn a living, so health at work is particularly important. Perhaps men take their work too seriously and their health not seriously enough.

Three British workers are killed every week at work. More than 1.1 million working people have a work-related illness.[1] Last year UK workers took more than the 131 million days off. But it’s about more than statistics.[2]

When we talk about work-life balance, we’re really talking about health: workers going in when they’re sick; longer hours and longer and further commutes; the five million people who earn below the living wage.[3] Whatever question you ask about male health, the answer will, to some extent, come back to a man’s employment - or lack of it.

Research by the Men’s Health Forum (MHF) shows that men working part-time are at higher risk of poor health than men working full-time. Men not working at all are at the highest risk of all. For example, unemployed men are more than twice as likely to smoke as men working full-time.[4]

Organised by the MHF, each year Men’s Health Week highlights a different aspect of men’s health. There’s plenty of choice because men lag behind on most health indicators.

Male life expectancy is still four years below that of women. Some 42% of men still die prematurely - that is, before the age of 75. Three-quarters of the premature deaths from coronary heart disease are male. Three-quarters of suicides are male. And excluding the cancers that affect one sex only (and breast cancer), men are 67% more likely to die from cancer than women. Men smoke more that women, are more likely to be overweight and are three times more likely to be dependent on alcohol.[5]

Last year’s Men’s Health Week looked at stress, anxiety and depression in men and this year’s theme is very closely related. Few would argue that workers across the UK are working harder than ever before and are under more pressure than ever before with relentless deadlines and targets to hit. MHF research suggests that stress is the major health concern among men whether they’re employed or not.[6]

But men are nearly twice as likely to be working full-time, so recession is likely to hit them harder. During the recession years 2008-2010, there were 800 additional male deaths by suicide compared to so-called ‘normal’ suicide levels. The similar figure for women was 155.[7] This may be down to unemployment; it may be down to increased stress at work.

Yet something doesn’t add up. Sickness is down (from 178 million days lost in 1993 to 131 million days in 2013). More surprisingly, sickness among male workers is lower than sickness among female workers. In 2013, around 1.6% of male working hours were lost due to sickness compared to 2.6% of female working hours. All told, women were 42% more likely to have time off work through sickness than males.[8]

Put these low sickness levels alongside to those premature death figures and it’s no exaggeration to say that some men are working themselves to death. Men might complain about a bit of man flu but they’re staggering into work all the same. The real worry, of course, is not the coughs and colds but the less obvious illnesses.

How can nurses help?

  • Publicise the Men’s Health Week
  • Do some local fundraising
  • Think about how to make your services more accessible to people who work (eg. opening hours)
  • Think about how you can use technology
  • Think about how you handle sick notes
  • Do some outreach work - contact men of working age
  • Don’t forget unemployed men
  • Have an open house, perhaps on a Saturday morning, targeted at men
  • Identify the diseases in your area which are the biggest causes of time off work such as stress or back pain and run special clinics or advice sessions
  • Target men explicitly in the posters, leaflets and even magazines in your waiting room

About the author

Sara Richards is a nurse and trustee of the Men's Health Forum

[1] http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics
[2] http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_353899.pdf
[3] TUC living wage report in http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/apr/01/tuc-uk-pay-living-wage-ki...
[4] Unpublished MHF research
[5] http://www.menshealthforum.org.uk/content/key-data-mens-health
[6] Unpublished MHF research
[7] DH annual report on suicide strategy 2014
[8] http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_353899.pdf

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