23 November 2022

UPDATED: Motives questioned as government refuses to develop men's health plan

| Lottie Twyford
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Rachel Stephen-Smith in the legislative assembly

Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith questioned the motives behind Ms Castley’s calls for a men’s health strategy. Photo: Region Media.

UPDATED 5 pm: In a move described as disappointing, the ACT Government has refused to support a push from the Opposition to develop a men’s health plan and recognise International Men’s Day.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith warned some elements of Canberra Liberals’ spokesperson for health Leanne Castley’s calls for such a plan were bordering on the far-right and ultra-conservative.

Ms Castley had referenced men’s rights’ activists and The Red Pill documentary in her opening speech. That movement has been linked to incel groups and some misogynistic ideology.

The Health Minister questioned the purpose of the motion.

“We could be uncharitable and say this is some red meat for the conservative base of the Canberra Liberals,” she said.

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Ms Stephen-Smith instead listed a range of initatives and work underway intended to support “the health and wellbeing of all Canberrans”, including men’s.

Furthermore, Ms Stephen-Smith said the Territory did not have a women’s health strategy either and therefore Ms Castley’s entire premise was flawed.

The Territory does, however, have a broader Women’s Plan which she said was intended to address ongoing equality issues.

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An at-times emotional debate took place in the chamber this afternoon as the Assembly debated the motion.

Opposition spokesperson for mental health Ed Cocks outlined his experience with men’s mental health and the times he had watched close friends suffer.

He said his first experience of a man committing suicide occurred when he was in high school and a friend’s brother took his own life. He had seen others suffer as well.

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Ms Castley, who introduced the motion by saying her life would not be the same without the “great men” she had in it, accused the government of voting against men.

“We need to come up with a targeted strategy to adress men and boy’s health, their access to [healthcare] and their outcomes,” she told the Assembly.

“I want the men in my life to be around for as long as possible … and I want to know the government has a plan in place for their health.”

Ms Castley said the last time this had been looked at was 1999 and this needed to be corrected.

If this story has raised concerns for you, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. If someone is in immediate danger, call 000. Information and support for anxiety, depression and suicide prevention are available through Beyond Blue.

A list of child and youth mental health services in the Territory is available online.

Leanne Castley

Opposition spokesperson for health Leanne Castley will move her motion in the Assembly this afternoon. Photo: Region Media.

8 am: The Government has a strategy in place for the health and wellbeing of women and LGBTQI+ people and should implement a similar one for men, the Canberra Liberals argue.

At the same time, it should recognise International Men’s Day (IMD) and develop a public health campaign to address health, wellbeing services and initiatives that focus on men and boys.

IMD takes place on 19 November every year. It is a decade-old initiative but has not garnered the same traction as International Women’s Day, which is more than a century old.

Some have criticised it for encouraging anti-feminism and anti-women voices, while others support its efforts to cast light on men’s health and mental health issues.

It is not recognised by the United Nations.

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Opposition spokesperson for health Leanne Castley, who will this afternoon attempt to force the Government to do just that with a motion in the ACT Legislative Assembly, outlined a range of statistics affecting men’s health.

According to a 2019 report from the Australian Men’s Health Forum, four out of five premature cardiac deaths and two out of three premature bowel cancer deaths that happen locally are men, while 57 per cent of Canberrans who die from cancer are men.

Furthermore, 75.9 per cent of suicides in the ACT are men and the rate of male suicide in the ACT has doubled in the past five years despite the national rate staying the same.

That same report highlighted a lack of “significant strategic work focused on men and boys’ health in the ACT”, and the Territory came sixth of all states and territories in terms of specific work it was doing to address men’s health.

It did, however, find men in the Territory are the most present fathers in the country and boys in the ACT ranked first on the education table, while men scored highest in terms of economic security.

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Ms Castley said while the Government had released important strategies to improve equity and access to health services for women and LGBTIQ+ groups, it was important for the Government to continue this work and develop a parallel strategy for men’s health.

She also noted there had been no work done to better understand health outcomes for men in the ACT.

Opposition spokesperson for mental health Ed Cocks was particularly concerned about the suicide statistics.

He said it was vital that there was a plan to deliver strong services and supports tailored to the needs of men and boys.

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The motion was supported by Australian Men’s Health Forum CEO Glen Poole.

Mr Poole said it was important to focus on preventing male suicide, tackling higher rates of premature death for men and ensuring easy access to male-friendly services with a targeted approach.

“We’d welcome cross-party support for the proposal to develop a Men’s Health Plan and would like to see the ACT Government working in partnership with local men’s organisations to improve the lives and health of men and boys in the Canberra region,” he said.

In 2019, the Federal Coalition government published a National Men’s Health Strategy.

That identified specific groups of men who needed targeted health action, including those living in rural areas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, and males with a disability or from a disadvantaged socioeconomic background.

Ms Castley will move her motion in the ACT Legislative Assembly this afternoon.

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Everyone’s health is equally important, as people’s health affects them and those close to them, so affecting our entire society from babies and little kids to old people and everyone in between. To ignore any group is to perpetuate problems for other people, as well as for our society as a whole and if we must focus on it, the economy too. The economy affects us all, but health affects us more deeply and more immediately every day of our lives.

Gender stereotypes are not just harmful to women, but also to men. They set up often unreasonable expectations and set up people to fail, as they are impractical and illogical in today’s world. One of the reason men’s health is so bad is because many feel that they are supposed to act strong all of the time, to not show or admit weakness, to not make a fuss when something is wrong. They often don’t go to the doctor when they need to, as they don’t want to make a fuss when they experience pain or discomfort, instead hoping it will just go away.

If we spent more time on men’s health there would be fewer deaths, less violence, fewer injuries, fewer people in prison and hospital, happier parents and children of all genders, as well as a much better society for everyone. Mental health issues are the cause of much distress, frustration and anger that disrupts logical thinking and leads to impulsive actions that cause more problems. This is the case for everyone, but men are often less able to ask for help, so instead of getting the support they need to find good solutions they may try to ignore the issue and then react in a way that causes them (and sometimes others) more trouble. To ignore men’s health is stupid and counterproductive for us all.

Healthcare should be provided equally to all citizens. To suggest that lgtb+ people should be given more funding (or receive) better healthcare is wrong. And to imply men should not receive equal funding and/or access to healthcare is sexist.

Capital Retro8:37 pm 23 Nov 22

Last time I checked we have a women’s and children’s hospital but I couldn’t find a men’s hospital.

If that isn’t discrimination I don’t know what is.

Last time I checked men do not require antenatal, gynaecology, neonatal and postnatal care.

But hey, if we could outsource reproductive capacity and the resulting healthcare needs to men that would be great – then you can have a dedicated service at hospital.

Capital Retro7:28 pm 04 Dec 22

Those “dedicated” services you mentioned have always been available in a general hospital. Why is it necessary to isolate them now?

If the results of the last ACT election weren’t enough for the Canberra Liberals to get their act together I don’t know what is. This latest motion from Leanne Castley is an example of how far-right the Canberra Liberals continue to move. But this is not surprising, a party dominated by conservatives. Anyone who managed to get through her shallow and self-indulgent speech deserves a medal!! And her referencing the sinister American documentary Red Pill and their links to incel is beyond the pale! Honestly, if this is what chamber sittings have turned into I’m ashamed. Of course there will be those in the community supporting this latest theatre from Ms Castley and that is evidenced from some of the comments below. Health for all Australians is important. Men, women as well as those from our LGBTQIA+ community and those in between. Health is a serious topic for everyone in our community and I hope media reporting is balanced. We all have families and they have their many diversities. Health is not about MLA’s using the parliament to spew their narrow minded and bigoted views and divide the community.

“Health for all Australians is important. Men, women as well as those from our LGBTQIA+ community and those in between.”

If you believe that then you agree with Ms Castley that the government should be placing more effort to assist a group of Australians that have significantly worse health outcomes than other Australians. Including other groups that receive significantly greater funding and attention from government.

Or are bigoted views OK, but only when they come from one side of politics and their supporters?

wodenresident12:48 pm 24 Nov 22

Estelle Red Pill and incel ideolegy occur when men do not have support and healthy role models. Supporting mens health is how you counter these movements.

Additionally, there is a study which demonstrates that the most unhappy people in America are 42 year old single childless women.

Therefore promoting mens health such that men are transformed into happy, healthy, productive members of society in addition to being good fathers and partners is beneficial to both sexes.

Let’s break down these walls that identity politics has erected and solve these problems together.

HiddenDragon6:56 pm 23 Nov 22

The doubling of the rate of male suicide in the ACT in the last five years, despite the national rate staying the same, is an awful statistic and if the ACT government is not doing all that it reasonably can to address that – even if it means confronting some inconvenient truths – they should be profoundly ashamed.

William Newby6:11 pm 23 Nov 22

NEVER do you hear the word misandry in this country, it’s all about misogyny. All this divisive talk of one sex vs the other is squarely focused on, and in favour of women.
At a federal level we even have a minister for women, and this is despite the facts that men have worse over all health, live shorter lives, are six times more likely to take their own lives, are 93% of our prison numbers, make up less than 40% of our university numbers, make up less than 40% of our APS numbers, are 16 times more likely to be injured at work or die on our roads.
This has gone too far, the loopy left have driven men into the ground, not this generation, but the impact on todays school children (boys) will be massive.
ACT Gov focus on gimmicks and themes such as more female tradies, but you never hear them pushing for more male nurses, psychologists, school teachers, all professions well under 20% male.
The straight male of tomorrow is doomed.
Diversity and inclusion, yeh right!

wodenresident5:02 pm 23 Nov 22

I strongly encourage a bipartisan centrist approach to mens related issues.

I encourage you to take an open mind to the challenges faced by men. I urge you to challenge the notion of white, male privilege.

There are those who are sympathetic to the issues faced by men. They sit on the far right and seek the complete destruction of minorities and womens rights as a solution to these challenges.

It’s easy to forget that Weirmar Germany was once a liberal place and that Hitler was democratically voted in.

FACT: More men die of prostate cancer than women of breast cancer.
Having said that, I need to acknowledge that women typically lose their battle at a younger age, which in itself, is a tragedy.

The support of public programs for breast cancer sufferers appears to be very good; but for prostate cancer, well…. not so much. Part of that problem is that prostate cancer is seen as an old man’s disease.

During my cancer treatment, a Registrar at the Cancer Clinic appeared to fob me off saying “most men die with it, not from it.” While that is also true, I found myself very politely quoting mortality and average diagnosis age statistics to her and reminding her that my diagnosis age was 10 years younger than the average diagnosis age, meaning that my chances of dying from it, were higher than dying with it (unless I succumb to something else prematurely).

My cancer has now metastasised. I’ve told my GP that I cry a lot. His reply was “I’m not surprised given what you’ve been through”. That’s all he offered. I could go to some self-run support groups and surround myself with other guys, some undoubtedly sicker than me, but frankly, that may not sit well with me emotionally.

I now have 3 monthly Oncology appointments instead of 6 monthly.

Anyone with any form of cancer or life-threatening condition goes through a lot emotionally. Quite a number of people who were having radiation when I was, have since passed away from their various conditions. It’s very confronting to learn that someone who you spent time with is now gone.

Unless you have that type of medical diagnosis, it’s very hard to appreciate what’s involved.

In the meantime, be thankful for every day and every little blessing.

I am so very sorry that this is happening to you. I wish there was something I could say or do that would help. Unfortunately these battles are very lonely. When my partner had lung cancer, I tried to find a group where he could talk to other men about his difficulties as I knew that he needed other men to talk with, rather than being limited to me. Sadly there was no men’s cancer group. I hope that has changed.

You get so sick of the stereotypes and models that people roll out as if to demonstrate their knowledge, whilst diminishing or ignoring personal experience. Unfortunately the focus in science and medicine is too much on the statistics and probability rather than tackling the really difficult stuff of real people, real lives and experiences.

Looking at case studies gives a much better understanding of the person, their feelings, fears, hopes and experiences to fully inform people of the facts and enable better care of the whole person, not just bits of them. Personal stories are more important than the statistics as the statistics do not tell us anything about what each individual is experiencing. Dismissing these stories as anecdotes is part of the medical model, but these real life stories are much richer and more detailed in what they reveal. We should listen to them properly so that we know how to support people through their struggles and in difficult times.

SigmaOctantis12:34 pm 23 Nov 22

Yeah, good luck with getting that through.

merakoinahin11:40 am 23 Nov 22

Men don’t deserve anything – that is the feminist ideology that the ACT government adheres to.

Well done Ms Castley. As Ben Folds used to sing “y’all don’t know what it’s like, being male, middle-class and white”.

But seriously health, including mental health, of all people should be improved across the board. It shouldn’t matter if you’re male, female, black, white, gay or straight.

Your ailment/illness/episode should be prioritised according to how acute the condition is, not by which boxes get ticked.

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