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Rod: Welcome, everyone Rod from Sports Adventure here today.
And today we’d like to continue our fantastic interview series where we interview inspirational people from around the world to share their expert insights on men’s health, mountain biking and good nutrition.
My guest today is one of Australia’s reigning experts on men’s health and well-being with over 30 years experience in men’s health promotion. He’s a social work-trained health educator who’s worked for over 35 years in government, non-government organizations and the private sector.
He’s currently involved in various men’s health and well-being projects and is the author of Men’s Health and Well-being: And A-Z Guide.
I’d like to welcome today men’s health consultant Greg Millan. Good morning, Greg.
Greg: Good morning, Rod.
Rod: Thanks again for your time, I really appreciate it.
Greg: That’s okay.
Rod: OK we’ll kick it off there. Mate, for you, what’s so good about being a men’s health consultant?
Greg: Yes. Interesting question. Probably–it’s a very small market in Australia.
Greg: It’s a very limited market. There might be–I would say maybe half a dozen men’s health consultants around Australia, maybe a few more but it’s a very tiny market. I guess it’s really pursuing what I’m interested in.
I worked a long time around men in different ways, and when I started social work, I first worked with young people as an adolescent health worker or a youth worker, working with street kids. And then I did a number of other things and made other changes but it soon became apparent somewhere along the line that most of the work I was doing was with men and it was a time when the men’s health area was starting to develop in Australia.
And so it seemed to me a perfect fit that I should start working with men alone because–a couple of reasons. One is that men’s health in Australia,and other developed countries in the world also–if you looked at the United States and Europe as well, men’s health is very bad in comparison to women’s health.
Greg: And so I guess [laughter] we need all the help we can get in a lot of ways.
Rod: Yeah, yeah, no. Go on, go on mate, that one’s spot on.
Greg: Yeah, and I found it good working for myself also because I can be creative and I can do projects so I can work with people and assist people to do their work in–and I guess most consultants might say this if you ask them, but I’m in charge of my work rather than somebody telling me what to do, which feels pretty comfortable for me.
Rod: Yeah, yeah, certainly. I think you hit on some really good points there and maybe some startling statistics on men’s health particularly for Australia and I assume it’s probably similar to other western countries. And you mentioned also it’s quite a small niche market that you’re in.
But comparing it to those statistics, it is quite concerning that there is not a lot of help out there for us blokes to work through our problems and get on top of it.
Greg: Yeah. I think that’s one of the–you’ve raised one of the key issues right at the beginning.
The reason why men’s health is so bad in Australia at the moment is to do with the fact that our health, welfare, education, legal systems, are all not male friendly at all. There are very few male friendly, they’re not male friendly. And that’s what the national male health policy that came out under the Rudd government clearly showed, the to improve men’s health in this country, we have to change all of those systems and have strategies that are men friendly.
It’s not the fault of men that our health is bad–and that’s one of the myths where I spend a lot of time in training with people. It’s one of the early myths that I bust about why men’s health is bad. It’s certainly not the fault of men. That’s the ridiculous thing; if a group of women had a health problem and we turned around and said “Oh, well it’s because you women…”, that would create some bush fires on social media that we’d probably never put out.
Greg: We wouldn’t do that. It’s not the fault of a gender, whether you’re a man or a woman, that your health is bad.
The problem in Australia is that there were changes in the seventies when things changed for women and feminism arose. And one of the first things they did is say look, our health is in bad put, let’s put some money into it. And that’s what happened. And women’s health got much, much better. Really, that’s good.
But that process never happened in the United States or here or any other country–that hasn’t happened for men nor is it likely to happen for men, so we have to rely on our governments and other people to get their head around the idea that we need to change the system and make things more men friendly. And change the way that we work with men so that we offer services that they can take up because they’re offered in a way where blokes would go “Oh,yeah, I’ll do that”. Often they’re not offered that way at all.
Rod: Yes, certainly. No, no, I think that’s some really excellent points there, mate. If someone heard about you, or is experiencing a few problems, what would be the best way for someone to get started on working through those issues that you [inaudible 09:21], Greg?
Greg: I think you’re probably talking about a bloke with a problem and I think the question is what do I do if somebody I know, maybe a mate or something or someone at work, has a problem. I think that’s your question.
Rod: Yeah, spot on. Yep.
Greg: Yep. Okay. It’s pretty simple stuff, really. Listen, you listen to somebody else, listen to what they’ve got to say, because it’s important if somebody is telling–if another bloke is telling you something, it’s important.
I would listen, and I would listen in a way where I wouldn’t judge what he was saying. And would listen in what we call a non-judgmental way. Just listen to the words and show them that you’re listening. And how you can do that sometimes is to say, “Oh, what you just told me was blahblahblah” and almost parrot it back to them, because that proves that you’re listening, you’re getting it.
And with any problem, I think it’s important that you offer options to people for them to choose what to do. Nearly every problem in the world–we can fix any problem in the world, and there’s often one, two or three different ways of tackling a problem. And all you do is talk about what those options are and let them choose the option they want. Don’t tell them what to do.
Rod: Yeah, sure. Yeah.
Greg: We’re not in the problem-solving, it’s your mate, and the best thing you can do is listen, don’t judge him. Offer some options. Say, how about A, B or C, what do you want to do? Have a bit of a plan. And then after that’s finished, I wouldn’t just walk away and go “Oh, that’s that finished.”
I would check back in with him in another week or so and say, we had a bit of a chat about that, what’s happened? How you going since then? And follow up a bit. So all those things are really easy things that men can do.
Rod: Yeah. No, that’s excellent. And pretty–it sounds like common sense, straightforward stuff, but we may not go about these things in the best way, and that seems like a good approach there, mate.
Greg: Well, the difference between men and women is that women do this thing called empathy very, very well. And empathy is like putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes. And women have almost– are naturally hardwired in the brain to do empathy pretty easily.
Now blokes aren’t actually hardwired to do empathy very easily, but empathy was involved in what I just said; listening, being non-judgmental, showing them that you’re listening to them, all that sort of stuff.
What men do really well is a thing called systems and understanding, or problem solving. That’s what we’re good at.
Rod: Sure. Sure. Yeah.
Greg: So often mates will think they’re doing the right thing and go “Oh, mate, don’t listen to that. You should do this, this and this” [laughter] and that’s exactly what I’m saying is not helpful. It’s not helpful to tell someone to do something because if they go away and take your advice and do it and it doesn’t work out, whose to blame?
Rod: Yeah, yeah. Back on you, mate.
Greg: Yeah, yeah. His is the blame. He goes right back to his mate and says “Why did I talk to you? Because you told me to do this and now it’s caused more problems.”
So men have to taper a bit of their systems and understanding stuff that they can get into and just find a balance between empathy and wanting to work things out.
Greg: And there is a balance in there and all men can do that.
Rod: That’s some great advice. From taking that approach, and I’d imagine every particular case is different, but how long would it take for someone to acknowledge or listen to a few suggestions and perhaps move on that to get things moving in a new direction, if you like, Greg?
Greg: Well, it really just depends on what the problem is, you know. We’re talking abstractly about problems.
Rod: Sure. Yup.
Greg: But one of the things I would–I don’t do any counselling, I teach people how to counsel men. I’m one removed. I do a lot of training about how to approach men around things like counselling, but the model of counselling that I follow that works best for blokes is a thing called solution-focused therapy, or brief therapy–it’s got two names.
But what it hints at is it’s solution focused. Men have this idea in their head about counselling, that it’s–“Oh,hell, I can’t go to counselling. I’ll lie there on the couch for two years telling this bloke about why I didn’t like my mum.”
Greg: That’s not the way we do counselling anymore. That’s the old-fashioned idea, but I think guys get a bit terrified about that. Solution-focused stuff means “G’day, mate, what’s the problem? Let’s fix it.” It’s action orientated, we fix the problem, there might be another one when they’re gone to fixing the next problem in the next session. And then the next. And after that, after say three sessions, most things should have been turned around. And one of the notions, really, of brief therapy is if it isn’t fixed in three sessions, the person doing it needs to stop.
Greg: Now it’s very short, and most things do get solved, or most of the bulk of the problem would probably get solved in around about three sessions of counselling or three talks for an hour or something like that. There’s a magic number of three. So it doesn’t go on forever and that’s what blokes want. They want stuff fixed, and they want it fixed now. And they want to see that they’ve got a plan. And they also want to see that they’ve got control over whatever this thing is, all problems arising like where we think “I don’t have any control over this. And when a bloke starts to feel that he’s losing control, we need to really step up and worry about that and work with him. Because all we need to do is to show him that he does have control about problems, and things can change. And just give him some skills to do that.
Rod: Yeah, certainly. No, very good points, mate. You probably couldn’t say there’s a typical type of problem that people would come to you with, or people would come to your team with, but what would be some examples of problems that this could work for–this approach could work for?
Greg: Well, it can really work with any problem that people present with. Anything at all, really, from problems–you see, a lot of problems that men suffer, I think in Australia are problems on a wide range of things, from financial problems–what we call social problems, financial problems, relationship problems, maybe some career stuff. Maybe mental health issues; they’re feeling a bit anxious or a bit depressed, and they don’t–they want to talk to someone about that, right through to possibly–they’ve got a more standard health problem.
What if they’ve just been diagnosed with cancer? And then what are they going to do about that? Or there’s some other health problem that’s come up, and that’s going to affect both their life and their working potential and maybe their family. So anything–it’s a broad range of things, but the approach stays pretty much the same to those things. It’s really an approach of dealing with that problem and saying well, what can I do about it.
And I think sometimes blokes with physical problems, if you’re up to a diagnosis of cancer or a heart problem and that, given the right information, in the right way, a bloke will understand what’s going on and he’ll deal with that. It’s a little bit trickier, I think sometimes if we look at mental health issues like depression and anxiety, because again, there’s a difference between men and women.
If women get stressed or anxious or depressed, then generally speaking, they do something about it. They will talk to someone about it or they will go and see a doctor or they will go and see a counsellor. Men won’t initially do that. What they will do is they will try and bluff their fixer[?], drink a bit more or take drugs, neither of which help. That will just make it worse. Or some way pretend that this thing is going to go away.
So it takes a little bit longer for men to realize it might be a benefit if I actually talk to someone about it. So that would be the–with mental health issues, it’s a first step. We need a bloke to actually talk about what’s going on for him.
Rod: Yeah, certainly. No, that’s fantastic advice and as we said before, reasonably straightforward, but us blokes don’t really think that way about–
Greg: Well, we’re different people. A lot of the time I spend talking to people about the differences between men and women, and another one of those differences, if we can think about this for a minute–women work from the inside out.[laughter]
Greg: They work from the inside, because in the inside, they know how they feel about some problem, they know they’ve got–it’s the empathy and feeling stuff, so they work from what’s inside them and they go out and they talk about, so “When you did this, I felt like that”, or “I feel like this about this”.
Blokes are the opposite. We work from the outside in. We’re the complete opposite. If we’ve got a problem where–we feel like we’ve got a financial problem, and we’re getting depressed about that, went drinking a bit much, and they’re all external, outside things sort of happening to us and we’ve some way got to connect from the outside into inside to know what am I going to do about it.
So we’re actually operating the other way around. We’re not operating the way that women do.
Greg: So we’ve got to work with a guy about fixing the outside things that are going first and do all that stuff on the outside before we get into anything on the–inside stuff.
We don’t immediately go in and expect a bloke is going to talk about his feelings, because he’s not.
Rod: No, no, that’s exactly right.
Greg: We wouldn’t expect him to[laughter].
Rod: No, no. Certainly.
Greg: But if you were dealing with a woman, you could do that, and they would be fine with that. Yeah.
Rod: Yeah. Terrific. No, that sounds great, mate. So if there’s any thing that blokes out there can do to keep on top of obviously their problems–as you mentioned, it’s a bit of talking about this stuff, getting it out there and finding the right person to speak to about their issues.
Greg: I think there’s a few things–I mean, and they’re general things–I think most blokes in Australia–we change a lot. Men in Australia have changed maybe their place in society. We’re not the same sort of blokes that our fathers and grandfathers were.
We’re not often the major breadwinner in the family sometimes, maybe the woman is and the bloke isn’t. So a lot’s changed in the world, and to be reasonable, I think men don’t get a lot of good press these days.
Men get more bad press than good press[laughter]. So starting from that one first point, I think it’s really important for a bloke to be proud of the fact he’s male. Let’s start from that point. It’s good to be a man, and men make good fathers, are good leaders, are good workers, or they look after us mainly, still; places like our armies, and our firefighters and our emergency services are all full of men doing great things. So I think the first thing is men need to realize that it’s a good thing to be a male.
Then I think they need to realize that men’s health is important, that men’s health matters, and you need to stay on top of stuff. Not only for yourself, but for people who are around you who either care for you or rely on you.
And the third thing is a really simple thing. Stay in touch with your mates. I do a talk–I run a healthy men in the workplace program and I do a talk about ten things men need to do to improve their health and live longer and happier lives. And number ten often shocks people. Number ten is to spend time with your mates, because I think that’s as important as your diet, and your weight, and your exercise and everything else we talk about in those sessions. To stay in touch with your mates means–and for some men that’s difficult over time, but it’s good to have two or three mates that you can go to and have a talk and you can find out what they’re up to and they can find out what you’re up to. And that mateship’s stuff really important that–that men have that and maintain it as they get older, too.
We don’t want to–Beyond Blue, for example, started some research into social isolation, like a couple of years ago, and found out that for some men, not all men, but a surprisingly high amount of men, as they get older, into their fifties and sixties in Australia, don’t have one person that they can rely on to help them out. Not one person.
So that’s what we call someone who would be–we use the catchphrase socially isolated. Now we don’t want blokes to end up in that situation, and one way to not end up in that situation is to stay in touch with your mates. So that’s why we drive home that point about the mates are really important, people who are around you and know more about you than anybody else.
Rod: Yeah. No, that’s a–
Greg: That improves your health.
Rod: Yeah, certainly. Mate, that’s a very good point and the fact that the research has now proven, it’s kind of sad, in a way, that as blokes get older they become a little bit disconnected with their mates and things change and situations–yeah, move on–
Greg: Yeah, we thought this was happening, but the research showed that it is happening. And now that we know it’s going on, I guess there’s things we’re doing about it. A–quick examples of a good thing, in Australia of course it’s the huge growth of men’s sheds. Men’s sheds are good because they help break down that social isolation, but men’s sheds are only for some men. Some men would never go to a men’s shed, they wouldn’t even think about doing that. It’s not their kind of thing.
So we’ve got to think about more broader ways of developing programs for men, for that age bracket, for the older guys, about how to keep them in touch with things. Men in their sixties used to have a whole lot more places to go. They had Rotary, and Lions and Buffaloes and clubs and things. All that’s gone. The social structure in Australia has changed. The only places that males socialize are the pub and at the footy, basically.
Rod: Sure. Why do you think that’s changed, Greg? Because that’s a massive change.
Greg: The society’s changed. Those things–we just moved on. If you talk to people in Lions or Rotaract, they used to have 100 guys in a meeting, now they’re scratching to get 12 men together for their meetings, you know what I mean?
Rod: Sure. Yeah.
Greg: It’s just been a change in circumstances and the way the world works. And also, if you look at social media and technology and computers, that’s a world that’s good on one side because of the information that’s shared, but it’s a solitary activity.
Greg: You know, we’re all doing more stuff on our own, so that’s breaking down social structures where people go out and chat and talk.
Already I’ve noticed some restaurants have banned the use of phones, saying if you come to our restaurant, we expect you to actually talk with someone else around the table [laughter], rather than talk to your mobile phone, you know? So there’s people–there’s a reaction against that from the pubs, saying these things are bad because they isolate people. They’re not bad, but they’re part of the problem of how we change and how we use the technology, but also realize we’ve got to get out of the house and visit a mate and sit–
Rod: Yeah. No, I think you’re spot on, mate. And your reference to restaurants–I’m amazed when my family and I, we head out to dinner and we look around–and I think we’ve brought it to our kids attention now and–to look around and see almost full families sitting there on their devices and one person might be looking around the restaurant. I can almost see what’s going through their mind; what am I really doing here? What is this all about?
Greg: Yeah. Exactly.
Rod: The whole event of a nice meal out with your family, and enjoy a bit of activity and meet a few people, see a few different things, it’s sadly–in some ways it’s being lost or–for some families, mate.
Greg: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. In fact, I’m guessing–I don’t know how old you are, but I think we’re in a similar age bracket. One of the interesting things–I’m in my early sixties–one of the interesting things is we’re the only generation that knows what life is like before computers and knows what life is like with computers.
Rod: Yes, exactly!
Greg: All the next generation up, your kids, don’t live in that world anymore. So we’re the ones stuck in the middle here who can tell what it used to be like and what it’s like–and that also has an effect on men in lots of different ways because they–you get all these conversations of “Oh, remember the good old days when we did this?” Yeah. It’s interesting.
Rod: Yeah. No, it is interesting, mate. And very good. And where could blokes find out a bit more information about what they can do to improve their health? You mentioned there’s a bucket-load of information out there for women, which is great; where can men find out a bit more?
Greg: Well, look; for the people that see this program, where they can go–I offer a free referral and information service by phone which is 0417-772-390. Also my website has a whole lot of links to different men’s services around Australia. And my website’s www.menshealthservices.com.au. It’s interesting you say that, because if you Google ‘women’s health’, I think you get something like 3.9 billion items–
Greg: –and if you Google ‘men’s health’,it’s under a million.
Rod: Mm-hmm. Certainly.
Greg: So you can go to Google, and you will find those service. I’m not saying don’t use Google, because that’s what everyone uses, Google, all the time. But if you type in anything like ‘men’s health’ or ‘men’s health services’, you’ll find my website and you’ll also find a number–a whole range of men’s health services in Australia just by using Google that way. But yes, it’s a big difference in the information that’s out there.
Rod: Terrific, that’s great. No, that’s incredible. And thank you for sharing your–couple links there. I’ll include a bit more information at the bottom of the blog when it’s up and running, so that’s all good. And you’ve also got a fantastic conference coming up soon. Could you talk a bit more about that, Greg?
Greg: Yeah, we do. Not far away now, there’s a two-day national male health conference on in Paramatta called New Male, which is a little bit different. It’s never been done before in Australia, this style of conference. It breaks away from the academic of talking heads and stuff like that. We’re bringing people in who normally don’t come to these sort of dos, and we welcome people to come along. And we’re only focusing on five different areas. The areas we’re focusing on, one of the most important things for men in Australia, is to stop the growing rates of suicide.
We lose ten people per day to suicide; eight of those are men.
Rod: Goodness me!
Greg: Eight out of ten. So we’ve got a huge problem with male suicide, so we’re devoting half a day to having a panel of people and some workshops around stopping male suicide. We’ve got the C-O of Lifeline coming. There is an A-B-C program called Man Up that went on TV last year, and Gus Morland, who is the presenter of that, will be at New Male in the preventing male suicide section; there will be a whole lot of people doing that. We’re looking also in the morning at the field of family violence in Australia and we’re particularly looking at stopping family violence, but also stopping violence against men. One in three victims of domestic violence in Australia are male. One in three.
Greg: And they get no services, or no programs provided for them, so we’re going to kind of unpick that and see what we can do to stop all kinds of violence against women, men, children and animals[laughter], broadening the whole thing out.
Rod: Good one.
Greg: Because all we hear in the media is it’s all about women being victims of violence, and yes, it is, like 66% of them.
Greg: But there’s more to that. And the next morning we’re looking at aboriginal health, we’re looking at young men on Friday afternoon and programs we’re doing for young men. And Friday morning, we’re kind of looking at the changing role of men in this country. That’s why it’s called New Male. And some of the stuff you and I have been talking about this morning, how men are changing and how men are different and coping with those changes. Like what’s going on for men at the moment, and what do we need to do about it. So we’ve got some really interesting people coming along on Friday morning.
The conference is still taking registration, too. All the information about it is on my website, and we would welcome people to come along. Even though this is aimed at people who work with men at the moment to improve their health, some of these are quite open to the public. If you’re a man or a woman whose interested in knowing more about these things and these topics, you’re very welcome to come along. So it’s not a closed group for workers. So we would welcome anybody who wants to come along, anybody who wants to be interested in how we can improve the health and well-being of men is invited to come along.
Rod: Yeah. Terrific, mate. That sounds fantastic, and some great topics you’ve covered there as well. So we’ll stand by for that. And as you mentioned, I’ll have pots of more information at the end of this, just for links for people to find your website, and also give people information on the conference as well.
Greg: Thank you. I really appreciate that. Yeah. That’s great.
Rod: No, no worries at all. Mate, we might, wrap it up there. I’ve used up a fair bit of your morning, but I really appreciate your time to have a chat. You’re doing some great work out there, Greg, and please keep up the good work and yeah; we hope to speak again soon.
Greg: Thank you. Thanks, Rod.
Rod: Terrific. Thank you.
Click here for more information on Greg’s website Mens Health Services
Click here for more information on the New Male Conference
Keep in touch and see you out on the trails.
About The Author
Rod Bucton, mountain bike fanatic from Mid North Coast, New South Wales Australia…discover the inside edge to become a more confident mountain bike rider and while you’re at it follow Rod on Facebook or Instagram.
Like any sport, bicycling involves risk of injury and damage. By choosing to ride a bicycle, you assume the responsibility for that risk, so you need to know — and to practice — the rules of safe and responsible riding and of proper use and maintenance. Proper use and maintenance of your bicycle reduces risk of injury.