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Health in Crisis? University College Dublin, Conference, 2012.


Men die significantly younger than women and also die more frequently from all the leading causes of death than their female counterparts. These and other figures would suggest that irrespective of the state of health in general, male health is surely in bad shape. Women’s health is positioned as superior to men because of their greater contact with health facilities and their greater cooperation and compliance with health professionals. Hence men are encouraged to ‘take a leaf out of the female book’ and adopt the health behaviours of their female counterparts.

It is due to a random mutation – evolution conferring responsibility for childbirth to women rather than men - rather than considered thought that women are so highly attuned to health services. And it is by similar dynamics of chance, in this instance culture, that this engagement and compliance is to a ‘medicalized’ version of health rather than to any number of alternate versions.

Feminist researchers have criticised the over medicalisation of women’s bodies and experiences for reinforcing rather than resolving societal disadvantage which they say are the true source of ‘ill-health’. Similarly critics of the bio-medical perspective of health – which dominates current western health settings- have criticized this model for over-reducing understandings and resolution of problematic human experience to biological dynamics within the individual. This criticism also leads to accusations that in side-lining contextual issues, responsibility for poor health is deemed to reside within the individual rather than within dysfunctional or corrupt external factors such as social or political systems.

Criticisms of practices within health care settings have led to a more ‘person-centred’ approach to many complex health concerns. This approach is reflected in statutory policies such as ‘A Vision for Change’ whereby it is advocated that clients (and their families) should be involved at every level of service provision. Despite common recognition of the poor state of male health and the recognition of a need for more person centred approaches, a serious lack of attention is paid to the personal accounts and perceptions of men. However in a small number of studies which did elicit the views of men it was found that a complex picture emerged which did not fit easily with the current dominant themes within health care which centre around the ‘deficient male.’ Instead a nuanced picture emerged which recognised for example, the negative influence of the ‘macho’ stereotypes and stoic conditioning but also recognised that that while these were ‘held’ by men they were also reinforced and protected within social structures such as schools, employment and even health care facilities.

In Ireland today there is one statistic that demonstrates clearly that men’s health, whichever way we understand it, is in crisis. That statistic refers to the rate at which men die by their own hand and is currently in the region of ten per week. This area too, suffers from an overreliance on ‘medical’ understandings and interventions which largely eschews accounts and understandings from males. It is proposed that research elucidating the views and experiences of men and boys on this topic may elucidate nuanced perspectives that may contribute to fuller understandings leading to more meaningful and ultimately more successful interventions for men