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Changing men, changing times

By Peter West - posted Wednesday, 14 July 2010


Bookstores are loaded with sections on women and their health. But when I asked in a bookshop if they had anything on men’s issues, the reply was “God, I don’t know. Look under mental illness or self-help”. When I asked for the men’s section in Cambridge, UK, I was taken to the section on pornography.

The old script for men was simple. Perform, protect, provide. That meant work hard most of your life. Protect your loved ones - that usually meant your wife and children. And provide food, clothing and shelter for them. If they could get some time off, men would play sport, go to the pub, and grab what sex they could.

One result was that men didn’t have much time to think about their health. They put off visiting doctors; they wouldn’t bother with healthy eating; they had simple ideas about relationships.

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A new book by Greg Millan, Men’s Health & Wellbeing: An A-Z Guide, shows us how far men have changed and are changing. Greg’s book is written in plain language intended for the average Joe and his partner. For a start, we learn about the usual suspects: prostate health, skin cancer, healthy hearts. But there is heaps more: relationships, being happy, grief, acupuncture, exercise. Greg has kindly included a couple of pages I wrote on how fathers should raise a son.

If men are under-using health and counselling services, is that the fault of men, or of the services? Greg suggests both could improve the way they relate to each other. I am glad there are many services targeted to women. But we could do so much more for men. It is still hard for men in crisis to get good help. Doctors are busy and often expensive: I abandoned one specialist who was charging me $600 for a one-hour visit. I don’t think much of the services aimed at depression, nor the helplines. Greg says we must help men get a better deal with services, and encourage services to deal better with men.

Should men go for traditional health, or Eastern medicine? Greg says, use both. Like many others with back pain and osteo-arthritis, I find the local GP’s help is limited. “Take a pain-killer and rest” is the usual suggestion. It’s been far more productive for me to seek out people who actively assist in solving the problem. I work out with a specialised trainer, use a smart young osteopath, and swim in cold sea water. Acupuncture and massage have also been useful. Greg’s book suggests a range of solutions, mainly acupuncture, osteopathy and exercise.

Thinking about men’s health includes well-being. Thus Greg talks about the common male approach to relationships. Women have far more ability to talk about relationships; listen to the women at the next table at the local café! Men need to keep up to speed with the women in our lives. And I am pleased to see so many young men being a “hands-on Dad”, playing with their kids, changing nappies, the full bit. Their kids will love them for it.

Despite the improvements, there are some new bad developments among younger males. We learned recently that teenagers are spending hours of their lives texting. Young text-fanatic males have sore thumbs and a host of related problems.

Again, Greg writes about body image as a major new problem among males as well as females. I like the men’s fitness magazines, but do they have to give us such a load of stuff? Most adolescent boys are lean; sometimes lumpy. Often they have pimples; sometimes they are podgy. They don’t need to see the popular magazines full of lean, mean pumped-up boys like Taylor Lautner and Cristiano Ronaldo. Too often this makes boys feel they need pecs of iron, abs of steel, and the legs of death. Kids need to feel happy with themselves, and need reassurance and patience from loved ones and teachers. I was glad to see that Federal Health Minister Ms Nicola Roxon has started a new program to address this issue.

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There are a couple of things the book needs. One is an index. Some of the suggestions for further reading could be revamped, for example on ageing. The thinking on ageing changes rapidly, and almost anything becomes dated. When is midlife these days: at 42 years, or 57? Some snazzy pictures might be an improvement. All of these could easily be added in the next edition. I am sure we will see one.

It’s great to find a men’s health book that’s so easy to read. People want to read about their health in clear language that does not daunt them. And there is a recommendation from Dr Mike Lowy and other men’s health experts.

This book should be in every doctor’s waiting room and every library. Teachers, men’s health workers and other professionals will find it indispensable. Men’s health is something everyone should work to improve.

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Greg Millan, Menís Health & Wellbeing: An A-Z Guide. Sydney: Longueville.RRp $34.95



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About the Author

Dr Peter West is a well-known social commentator and an expert on men's and boys' issues. He is the author of Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Finch,1996). He works part-time in the Faculty of Education, Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

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