By Owen Metcalfe, Director, Institute of Public Health in Ireland
Economic recessionary times threaten many aspects of daily life and have implications for health and wellbeing. One aspect of recessionary impact is explored in the recent IPH report ‘Facing the Challenge – the Impact of the Recession and Unemployment on Men’s Health’ which has identified a strong expectation of increased mental health problems for men given the very strong correlation between unemployment and male mental health.
This report contains recommendations for addressing the needs of men faced with unemployment or the prospect of unemployment. These recommendations are based on the research which contained interviews with service providers and unemployed men across the island. It is clear that a collaborative approach involving many organisations and service providers is required to deal more effectively with this growing problem.
Yet again a piece of public health research indicates the requirement for multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral action to improve circumstances affecting health. Many of the causes of health and wellbeing lie outside the health sector and are socially and economically formed. It is therefore imperative that efforts are made to generate awareness amongst sectors where policies, programmes or projects impact on health of their contribution to the vital human asset of health.
Creating awareness is a first step and those with contributions to make must be supported and encouraged to act in a strategic and coordinated manner. Whilst the economic climate presents many threats it is also said that it presents opportunities, opportunities to think afresh about how we carry out public health. Growing burdens of disease, rises in obesity rates, continued inequalities in health as referred to in the recent TASC report – Eliminating Health Inequalities: A Matter of Life and Death (2011), and pressure on resources confirm that public health responses are urgently needed and, importantly, make economic sense.
Responding and engaging in a multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral manner will be more likely if the approach receives a Government mandate. Governments can coordinate policy-making but effective implementation requires partnership approaches at many levels. In this context two developments in public health on the island are significant and important.
In the Republic of Ireland the new public health policy being developed by the Department of Health has pledged to help people live healthier and more fulfilling lives and to create social conditions that ensure good health, on equal terms for the entire population. The commitment to recognising the requirement for cross-departmental engagement was evident by the attendance of four Ministers at the launch of the consultation process. It was particularly heartening that Ms Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Children attended as an emphasis and priority on early years can play a huge role in influencing future mental and physical health.
In Northern Ireland the process of developingthe second Investing for Health Strategy (2002) is underway. This particular strategy, referred to by Sir Donald Acheson as one of the best public health strategies he had ever seen, placed a premium on cross-departmental engagement in the health agenda and it is to be hoped that the new Investing for Health Strategy will contain a similar endorsement of the requirement of many agencies and departments to contribute to the health agenda.
Collective joined up action is required to nurture, maintain, protect and promote good health which is an essential asset for a healthy and vibrant economy.