MALE CARERS: Often men are so focused on caring for their loved one that they put their own needs to the side.
MALE CARERS: Often men are so focused on caring for their loved one that they put their own needs to the side. Moyo Studio

Help is at hand for male carers

GREG Smith, founder of Men Care Too, takes the lid off some of the health issues that affect the 1.1 million men around Australia who provide unpaid care or support to someone with an illness or disability.

His organisation (mencaretoo.org) supports the carers through newsletters, social events and online resources. Healthy Male (healthymale.org.au) supports this small but extremely important organisation by providing resources and information.

A lot of carers don't see themselves as carers. I've been in a caring role for 20 years, but I only recognised myself as a carer around ten years ago.

There can be a bit of stigma for men and they typically don't know what services or supports are around.

Another big issue is not knowing how to talk about the caring role with mates. A lot of carers with a partner or child with a disability or illness need to keep working to keep their income coming in. Say a guy is in the construction industry and he has an autistic child, it can be hard to talk about some of the challenges he faces. He might not have the right words or the confidence to say what he needs to say.

Often you are so focused on caring for your loved one that you put your own needs to the side. Many times you lose connections with your community. At Men Care Too, we organise social occasions for carers and former carers so that they can meet others who are in the same situation. For example, recently we organised a get together down at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Often, we have a bit of an icebreaker first, then we do an activity, then we move onto the food - and that's where we start having more meaningful conversations.

We get the message out about our activities by connecting with the Australian Men's Shed Association and other organisations that help promote the work we do. Men Care Too helps men on the central coast of NSW, but the issues are the same for men across Australia. As carers, we need more opportunities for social connection and we need more information about how to look after our own health.

I've been using Healthy Male resources at our social functions and at events like Men's Health Week. What I like about them is that they are focused specifically on men, and are written in a language that blokes can understand and can relate to.

The GP question checklist is particularly useful. We handed them out to blokes during Men's Health Week. Some of these guys might not have been to the GP for a while, or don't believe they need to go to the doctor. Looking at the list might help them think, 'maybe I should go to my doctor and ask about some of these things'. The fold out contact list that you can put in your pocket is perfect because guys can keep it with them.

I package the resources into brown paper bags. I call them 'blokes bags' and hand them to men and women who come to events. Women can help put the information in front of guys. I tell them to hang onto the bags because they never know when they're going to need numbers to call.

Service providers and healthcare professionals need to think outside the box when it comes to engaging with men and carers. It might be that they provide clinics outside of working hours, or offer quick basic health checks in workplaces, at sporting events and at hardware stores. Many carers might not make an appointment to see their GP during working hours.

Services need to gauge where men are at and provide more male-friendly services.

I also think GPs should be supported and resourced to play a key role in identifying and supporting carers. They can help carers put the time and effort into their own wellbeing.

My message to men is we're not invincible.

We need to be more mindful of our bodies, particularly as we age. Like a car, our bodies get wear and tear, so it's important to look after them. There's no need to be embarrassed or put things off.

We need to be proactive and not delay getting help. This is particularly important for men in a caring role - if you're not well yourself, you can't look after the people you love.

This story was first published by Healthy Male, a national organisation that provides access to the latest scientific and medical research on male reproductive and sexual health. Info: healthymale.org.au.