Exploring the vital link between mateship and men’s health
Many men lack the opportunity to build quality mateship in their lives, a webinar on social connection and men’s health heard today.
Australian Men’s Health Forum CEO Glen Poole called on policymakers and those who build programs that address social connection to recognise the need for a gendered approach.
“We need to make mateship as important to our health as exercise and not smoking,” he said.
Poole pointed out that men and women form friendships in different ways.
“Men and boys connect through action and doing stuff,” he said. “Women and girls connect more intimately through emotional sharing. There is plenty of research to back this up and something that emerges quite early in life.”
However, many funded programs that address social connection are only effective at engaging women.
“More social connection at community level will stop men from falling over the cliff.”
The webinar heard that lack of social connection is a global issue. Japan appointed a Minister for Loneliness in 2021, and in the UK, 45% (25 million people) experience loneliness. There was a “Friendship Recession” in the USA between 1990-2021. Men with at least six close friends fell from 55% to 27%; men with no close friends rose from 3% to 15%.
In Australia, 3 in 5 men (61%) have lost contact with more mates than they would like, and 1 in 4 men (23%) report poor social networks. Men were also twice as likely as women (1 in 5) to say they had no family and friends to confide in.
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Too often, the conversation around men’s health focused on what men were not good at rather than taking a strengths-based approach and building on what men are good at.
“In Australia, mateship is a positive quality of masculinity. One of the core values of mateship is looking out for each other,” said Poole.
In Australia, effective community-based programs and activities for men draw on the ways men connect, for example, through action and activities, side-by-side, in sheds, outdoors, around a barbecue, over a beer, sports or shared passions, like cars and motorbikes. These included The Men’s Table, Mr Perfect, Men’s Walk and Talk Groups, Men’s Sheds, the Tough Guy Book Club, workplace talks delivered to men in their environment.
While many men's groups work with archetypically masculine interests, practices, norms and roles, many also acknowledge the diverse and evolving nature of masculinity by affirming men’s positive strengths and allowing for emerging masculine virtues to develop.
One of these organisations – Shed Happens in Mackay – was trying new ways to attract men to its meetings. “A lot of people say they are coming and don’t front up,” said organiser. Frank Cowell. “A lot of blokes think they’ve have to be broken to come.” Shed Happens has addressed this stigma by offering a varied program, inviting guest speakers, using the knowledge of the group to stimulate conversation.
Poole reiterated that the grassroots men’s movement was doing great work and needed better funding and recognition. He said existing funded initiatives that work to promote social connection need to take a gendered approach that includes a focus on men and boys.
He said there was a recognition in the field of social connection that projects that focus on tackling the deficit of "loneliness" tend to struggle to attract people as defining people as "lonely" can be stigmatising. This may be particularly true when working with men where a focus on the strength of "building mateship and social connection" may be more effective.
“Where there are interventions, they focus on the most vulnerable group, people with disabilities, the old and frail. These are important, but we need a whole-of-population approach to make mateship as important to our health as exercise and not smoking.”
Men’s Health Connected is a series of talks and webinars on a range of health topics, hosted by the Australian Men’s Health Forum.
In 2023, the talks fall under three series: Male Suicide Prevention, Social Connection and Men’s Health and Getting Moving for Men’s Health.
The sessions are free to attend. Find out more and register your interest.