There is an increasing number of organisations / practitioners who are keen to involve men in their programmes and to learn about the most effective means to do this.Â Commonly, they wish to know why they should involve more men and how to go about it.
The Republic of Ireland was the first country in the world to adopt a National Menâ€™s Health Policy.Â This policy highlighted the broad range of health and wellbeing issues facing men, and outlined frameworks and strategies to address these needs.Â In 2017, this Policy was succeeded by the â€˜Healthy Ireland - Menâ€™ Action Plan - which, itself, is now being updated.Â
The Policy recognised the important role played by service providers and local practitioners in improving the health of men and boys, and acknowledged that these stakeholders also have training and support needs.
Engage: National Men's Health Training Programme
The â€˜Engage: National Men's Health Training Programmeâ€™ was developed to address the deficit in gender sensitive service provision for men, and to assist people on the ground to effectively build relationships with / meet the health and wellbeing needs of males of all ages.
Engage is the product of a partnership between the National Centre for Men's Health, the Menâ€™s Development Network, South East Technological University, the Health Service Executive's Health and Wellbeing Division and the Men's Health Forum in Ireland (MHFI).
The content is based upon the partners' practice experience and evidence from academic literature.Â All Engage materials are rigorously field-tested and evaluated, and the most recent workshops were co-produced alongside the facilitation team.
Initially, five Engage â€˜Unitsâ€™ were developed.Â These focus upon:
1. What is menâ€™s health, how does gender affect it, and what impact does social determinants have?
2. Practitioner values and support.
3. Guiding health consultations with men.
4. The rules of engagement.
5. Establishing a menâ€™s group and sustaining engagement.
Later, in 2015, Unit 6 was added to the programme.Â This specifically looks at â€˜Connecting with Young Menâ€™ - especially in relation to their mental health, and seeks to:
-Â Demonstrate why we need to work with young men as a specific group.
-Â Help participants to reflect on their own value base, experience, attitudes towards, and expectations of young men.
-Â Explore the world of young men, the issues that they face, and the opportunities that exist to engage with them.
-Â Consider the practicalities of â€˜what worksâ€™.
-Â Increase the confidence of participants in relation to working with young men.
â€˜Men in the Middleâ€™ (Unit 7) was created in 2018, and focuses upon how to engage middle-aged men in order to improve their mental health.Â This looks at:
-Â How to create a â€˜safe spaceâ€™ for middle-aged men.
-Â Why we need to work with middle-aged men around mental health issues.
-Â The world of middle-aged men, the key issues that they face, and the specific pressures upon them.
-Â Protective factors for good mental health and wellbeing in middle-age.
-Â How our own value base, experience, attitudes and expectations impact upon our interactions.
-Â Examples of what works in practice / what a male-friendly service might look like.
Unit 8, called 'On Feirm Ground', was launched in late 2021 and works with Agricultural Advisors to support and improve the health of Irish farmers.Â A further phase is now beginning, which will target other agricultural professionals who are front-line service providers to farmers.
During 2022, the Engage Partners felt that it would be useful to merge all of the learning to date into one generic programme.Â This new programme - called 'Connecting with Men' - builds upon the strongest features of earlier Engage Units.
The key objectives for this workshop are to:
-Â Reflect upon how to create a â€˜safe spaceâ€™ for working with men.
-Â Gain a common understanding of what menâ€™s health is and why it is important.
-Â Explore how gender influences the values and attitudes that men develop in relation to their health, and how this influences their health behaviours.
-Â Identify some of the determinants that shape health outcomes for men.
-Â Reflect on participantsâ€™ own value base, experience, skills, attitudes towards and expectations of men.
-Â Explore what a â€˜male friendlyâ€™ health programme or service looks like in practice.
-Â Signpost participants to further sources of help, advice, guidance and support.
Currently, due to capacity issues, only the Connecting with Men and On Feirm Ground workshops are being regularly delivered.
There are two types of Engage training:
(1) Training for Trainers - an intensive, mostly residential course, designed to give a small number of key facilitators the knowledge, skills, experience and support to deliver Engage workshops to others.Â These are only run occasionally to meet the ongoing needs of the programme.
(2) Engage Workshops - sessions delivered by Engage facilitators (i.e. graduates from the Training for Trainers programme) to front-line service providers and practitioners.Â These workshops focus on one or more of the Units mentioned above, and seek to: help participants to increase their understanding of the world of men; enhance their capacity to build relationships with them; and explore what models of effective practice might look like in local situations.
MANifest: Connecting Men with Mind Fitness
Although developed for use in the Republic of Ireland, Engage workshops were also successfully piloted, field-tested and delivered in Northern Ireland - due to the fact that one of the Engage partners (the Menâ€™s Health Forum in Ireland) operated on an all-island basis.Â Indeed, the original Engage facilitation team - trained in 2012 - included two people from Northern Ireland.Â Later, two further teams of Engage facilitators were trained - via the â€˜Man Mattersâ€™ programme (2014) and the Western Health and Social Care Trust (2018) - to work specifically in the Northern Irish counties.
'MANifest' takes its inspiration from the approach and format of the Engage programme.Â However, while Engage mostly explores general menâ€™s health needs and issues, MANifest focuses specifically upon menâ€™s mental health and â€˜mind fitnessâ€™.
The MANifest programme was conceived, developed, piloted and evaluated by Colin Fowler (Menâ€™s Health Forum in Ireland), Sonia Montgomery (Western Health and Social Care Trust, Health Improvement, Equality and Involvement) and Michael Lynch (Menâ€™s Action Network).Â It is supported by the Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Leads in all of Northern Irelandâ€™s Health and Social Care Trusts and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service.Â The funding to underwrite the development of the programme came from the Public Health Agency.
The programme is based upon research evidence and the partners' practice experience.Â All MANifest materials have been rigorously field-tested and evaluated, and they reflect and incorporate the feedback given by participants on the pilot workshops that were held in each Health Trust between 2021 and early 2023.Â There are two programme delivery formats: (i) in-room; and (ii) online.
The aim of these workshops is to assist a broad range of practitioners and service providers to explore the key issues that impact men and their mental wellbeing, and understand what works in order to be able to effectively engage with men and signpost them to a range of services.
The workshops primarily focus on the engagement process (i.e. WHY and HOW to build relationships with men and boys in order to explore mental wellbeing), rather than offering a new or revised mental health programme (i.e. WHAT to offer them).Â This is because workers who have had success in engaging this target group say that if you can get the â€˜whyâ€™ and the â€˜howâ€™ right, then almost anything is possible after that.
The core objectives for this workshop are to:
-Â Explore how to create a safe space to work with men.
-Â Reflect upon how men and boys are viewed in society.
-Â Map the major landmark moments and key transition points in the lives of males.
-Â Identify some of the key expectations of / pressures upon men and boys.
-Â Understand personal strengths / areas for improvement in relation to working with men.
-Â Agree what is meant by â€˜mental healthâ€™ and â€˜mind fitnessâ€™.
-Â Determine why we need to focus upon males and mind fitness.
-Â Highlight factors that might take men â€˜to the edgeâ€™.
-Â Name some of the challenges and barriers to males seeking help.
-Â Think about how to read the signs of mental health distress in males.
-Â Define some the key characteristics of a â€˜male-friendlyâ€™ space / service.
The programme is delivered by a minimum of two facilitators via one day workshops, which are free for participants.