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Sick of being unemployed: the health issues of out of work men

guyGHave you ever struggled to find a job? Been made redundant? Been sacked? Had to quit a job due to illness? How did that make you feel?

This is the topic of a new joint report by the Men’s Health Forum (MHF) and The Work Foundation; ‘sick of being unemployed: the health issues of out of work men and how support services are failing to address them’, the launch of which I attended on Wednesday.

The report was produced to coincide with Men’s Health Week this week, organised by the Men’s Health Forum, who aim to be the voice for the health and wellbeing of men and boys in England and Wales.

The launch was chaired by Geraint Johnes, Director of The Work Foundation and Speakers included Norman Lamb, Minister of State for Care and Support, Jenny Guildford, Policy and Research Officer and author of the report, The Work Foundation, Martin Tod Chief Executive, Men’s Health Forum and Dr John Chisholm CBE, Chair of Men’s Health Forum; health and work lead, Royal College of General Practitioners.

Men’s Health is an often overlooked topic, usually drawing most attention in November. MHF’s latest report focuses on men’s health and its relationship with employment. The relationship between health and employment is an issue I was keen to explore further- for many people my age, looking for their first job in the aftermath of a global financial crisis, the job market has not been easy and I can understand that employment, or lack of it, can have an effect on your health.

As the report highlights, being unemployed not only affects your mental health, as it can lead to depression and other mental health issues, but it also affect your physical health- unemployed men are more likely to engage in unhealthy activities such as smoking or taking drugs, often to counteract the stress of being unemployed. Of course, this doesn’t just affect men, but as the report points out, the effect on men appears to be much great than on women, e.g.; men are twice as likely to have mental health problems due to being unemployed than women.

The report calls for the government to take “a more innovative approach to tackling the health of unemployed men, including taking action at an earlier stage and a joined-up approach from Jobcentres and other agencies, must be taken to improve both the health and employment outcomes for men.” This more ‘joined-up’ approach is demonstrated in the report by the case study of the combined initiative of Tomorrow’s People (a national employment charity) and The James Wigg centre, a GP surgery in Camden. The surgery agreed to have a Tomorrow’s people employment adviser based in its practice to offer support. Around 70% of those who used the service were unemployed, 85% of whom had been unemployed for six months or more.

The results were extremely positive in both helping people returning to work (87% entered employment, a voluntary or training placement, or some form of education) and in improving health outcomes.

Unfortunately, too much of the rhetoric in the press and from many political parties around unemployed men at the moment is very negative and seeks to stigmatise those who aren’t in work rather than seeking an explanation, or even a solution to the problem. For this reason, it is very refreshing to hear the Men’s Health Forum and the Work Foundation talk about tackling the issue of unemployment in a more positive way.

It seems the joined up thinking between employment and health bodies can lead to better outcomes for everyone. You could say that this report is a great example of joined up thinking in the field- a collaboration between the Men’s Health Forum and the Work Foundation. It seems they are leading by example on the subject, by starting a conversation and, just as importantly, raising awareness of the subject.

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