Men's Health Strategy: 5 ways to help dads in distress
Pete Nicholls of Parents Beyond Breakup, outlines five ways he's like to see the National Men's Health Strategy support separated fathers.
As CEO of Parents Beyond Breakup, I was disappointed to discover that the National Men's Health Strategy doesn't focus on the needs of separated dads.
In 2019, our Dads In Distress Support groups will be celebrating their 20th year. We currently have 16 weekly groups meeting all over the country, run by trained volunteers and supported by a national telephone helpline and online support.
Our peer support groups give separated dads social connection, emotional support and practical guidance to help navigate the distressing world of family breakdown. We cannot fix the issues that separated fathers experience, but we can and do build their personal resilience and empower them to find optimal ways to deal with their challenging circumstances.
Doing so very effectively takes the risk of suicide off the table which, when you consider that over 50% of separated dads feel suicidal, is no small achievement. We are proud to say that we help keep dads alive and in their kids’ lives.
Involved fatherhood is not only good for the health of fathers and sons (making it a men's health issues), is also good for the health and wellbeing of mums and daughters.
With this in mind, here's my wish list of five things I want to see included in the National Men's Health Strategy.
1. Target Blokes In Distress
The Strategy has lots of ways of identifying specific groups of men to target. There are life stages like adulthood and health conditions like testicular and prostate cancer and priority groups like males who identify as gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex. What’s missing is a focus on the broader context of men’s lives and in particular, the distressing life experiences that can impact men’s lives and health. We want to see the Strategy targeting support at “men at distress” as a priority group, including separated dads.
2. Learn From Best Practice
We were pleased to see the new Men’s Health Strategy place a strong focus on:
- Male-centred approaches to services and programs
- Best practice approaches to men’s health and wellbeing
- Training for health professionals on working with men
As we have 20 years’ experience of a taking a male-centred approach to working with men, we invite everyone involved in men’s health to reach out and learn from our best practice approaches.
3. Give Separated Dads A Voice
The new Men’s Health Strategy places a strong focus on engaging with men as health consumers but, unlike the Women’s Health Strategy, doesn’t recognise the importance of giving men a voice and listening to their lived experiences.
We have been providing a safe space for separated dads to share their experiences for 20 years. If the commitment to “embed active, meaningful, non-tokenistic engagement of men” in the Strategy is genuine, then we can help.
For this to happen, the Strategy needs to acknowledge that men are much more than health consumers, they have lived experiences that health providers can learn from if they are prepared to listen and give men a voice.
4. Invite Advocates For Separated Dads To The Party
We are pleased to see that the new Men’s Health Strategy commits to a governance structure and a national men’s health research strategy. We are concerned, however, that fatherhood in general and the experiences of separated dads in particular, will be overlooked.
We note that the Strategy states that “advocacy" is one role that NGOs play as partners helping to implement the Strategy. However, we also note that NGOs that work with and advocate for separated dads have not been invited to the table.
We are happy play our role, sharing best practice and advocating for the needs of separated dads, but we need to be invited to the table to do this.
5. Pull Down The Barriers To Good Health
It’s great to see the Men’s Health Strategy recognise the need to address the systemic and structural barriers to men’s health. Involved fatherhood promotes good health in men and so the barriers to involved fatherhood are also barriers to good health.
For separated dads, we know that work, money, transport, housing, the family court system and an unsupportive relationship with the child’s mum, are all barriers to separated dads enjoying the health benefits of involved fatherhood.