In Ireland, men die, on average, five years earlier than women. They are also at higher risk for all leading causes of death and are more likely to die by suicide. In 2009, Ireland took a step to improve the health of men and became the first country to adopt a men’s health policy nationally.
Dr. Noel Richardson, director of the National Centre for Men’s Health at the Institute for Carlow in Ireland, was the lead author on the national policy. He recently visited Men’s Health Research (MHR) to take part in MHR’s “Enough about me, let’s talk about something I’ve written!” video series (which you can watch here!). He took some time to chat with us about the current state of Irish men’s health.
From policy to practice
With the national policy being in place for close to eight years, we wondered how things have changed for men’s health in that time.
Richardson explained that when a policy is put in place, progress or successes are not always seen right away. This was the case with paternity leave. “This was something that was named 8-9 years ago and for several years it was no progress, no progress, but then that policy measure was successfully introduced,” said Richardson.
Another positive change has been reporting structures, “In particular, we have a national implementation group with a fairly clearly defined action plan that informs specific objectives in men’s health and sets specific targets. They also have really strong reporting mechanisms that produce annual reports which chart progress against objectives and actions,” said Richardson.
Since the policy went into effect Richardson says that men’s health advocates are becoming more involved in the decision-making process. “They are having a stronger role in shaping policy development in other areas, so if there is a new strategy being developed, for example, in suicide prevention, we’re now seeing men’s health experts sitting on those policy tables and having a say in terms of how those policies can be more effective,” he said.
The future of men’s health in Ireland
So what’s next?
Richardson says he will have his plate full. He will be working with a group of PhD students on the health of farmers. “We will be looking at various health interventions, such as text messaging that help support farmers to make lifestyle behaviour changes and take more responsibility for their own health.”
Other projects include the Men on the Move program, which is a physical activity program targeted at overweight men. This program will encourage fitness and self-reporting measures to gauge impact.
But even with new programs and a national policy Richardson says the work isn’t finished. “I would like to see a lot more support in terms of money and resources. I think there’s a really strong pool of people who are incredibly dedicated and committed to working on men’s health and I think if we were to be given more resources and to sort of channel that energy we could do a lot of really good work.”