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Column: Men need to go to the doctor. Here’s why.

Irish males are in the spotlight thanks to Euro 2012, writes Colin Fowler – but do we realise the bigger problems they face?

Alcohol can be a retreat for men - as well as a cause of health problems
Alcohol can be a retreat for men - as well as a cause of health problems
Image: Simon Cocks via Flickr

MEN IN IRELAND are often accused of being forgetful; especially when it comes to remembering significant dates such as birthdays and anniversaries. However, while this might sometimes be true, there’s a date that all men need to know about – as it could help to save their life.

International Men’s Health Week will run from today until Sunday 17 June 2012. Each year this provides an important opportunity to focus upon the health needs of men and boys. Everyone has a role to play in supporting and promoting this week.

European Football Championship fever is in the air. Men across the country are planning their viewing schedules (possibly even their working hours), stockpiling enough refreshments to see them through a nuclear winter, and making arrangements with their friends for the common sharing of this four-yearly experience.

Many men are knowledgeable about what lies ahead. They know which teams have got through to this stage; who is in each group; what days and times the Irish team will be playing; what the bookies’ odds are for each team to win; which players are likely to be the stars of the competition …

Euro 2012 has created a common bond among many men. They have a reason to be in each other’s company. They are well informed by the media about what lies ahead. They are prepared to give their opinions and stand out from the crowd. They are motivated and excited. They are enthusiastic and want to be involved. They are likely to show more emotion than usual. These are traits that we don’t often associate with Irish males.

However, despite all this focus on men, few people (male or female) are aware of one thing: men, on the island of Ireland, experience a disproportionate burden of ill-health and die too young.

Death rates

Men die, on average, almost five years younger than women do. Males have higher death rates than women for all of the leading causes of death and at all ages. Poor lifestyles are responsible for a high proportion of chronic diseases. And late presentation to health services leads to a large number of problems becoming untreatable.

The high level of premature mortality amongst men in Ireland has far-reaching repercussions. It affects not only industry and commerce, but also impacts upon the social and financial positions of families – through the loss of the person who is still, in many households, the primary income earner. However, this is not a ‘lost cause’ – research shows that preventable risk factors account for a high proportion of male illnesses. Therefore, we can all take positive and practical action to do something about this situation.

Men’s Health Week (MHW) always begins on the Monday before Father’s Day and ends on Father’s Day itself. It is celebrated in most European countries, as well as in the USA, Australia, New Zealand and a number of other places worldwide. On the island of Ireland, MHW is coordinated by the Men’s Health Forum in Ireland (MHFI).

Internationally, the core aims of MHW are to heighten awareness of preventable health problems for males of all ages; support men and boys to engage in healthier lifestyle choices; and encourage the early detection and treatment of health difficulties in males.

However, each year, individual countries focus upon a specific theme. The theme for 2012 in Ireland is: “What’s your first instinct: Fight? Flight? Find Out?”

Soldiering on

Human beings start out life with a pre-disposition for self-preservation. This ‘first instinct’ drives them to eat well, keep fit, be active, ensure personal safety, look after themselves, work collectively, tend to injuries etc.

However, over time – especially in Western societies – it is easy to become complacent, individualistic, isolated, lonely; and consequently for our health (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual) to suffer.

This year’s MHW will focus upon encouraging and developing a ‘first instinct’ in males which is to actively seek help, advice, support, and to act quickly in times of difficulty, crisis or ill health rather than to ignore symptoms, turn to alcohol, ‘soldier on’, or even take their own life.

There are many simple, free and easy ways that you can support or participate in this week. Check out this website to see how you can be involved. Put a MHW poster up in your workplace, pub, community centre, or local shop. Join in one of the events taking place. Become a fan of the Men’s Health Forum in Ireland’s Facebook page, and/or follow all the latest MHW news on Twitter.

But, most importantly, you could take a few minutes to look at the state of your own health, and make MHW 2012 the start date for a new beginning. Now, that’s a date worth remembering.

Colin Fowler is the Director of Operations for the Men’s Health Forum in Ireland (MHFI). MHFI is a diverse network of individuals and organisations, men and women, from both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. It is, primarily, structured, organised and run using the expertise, resources and enthusiasm of volunteers.

The Forum seeks to promote all aspects of the health and well being of men and boys on the island of Ireland through research, training, networking, health initiatives and advocacy. More details can be found at www.mhfi.org or by emailing Colin at: colin@mhfi.org

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