Boost for male health as Flinders University joins research alliance

Flinders University has joined a ground-breaking male health research alliance to create an unrivalled global entity.

The addition of Flinders University, in association with Flinders Foundation, as a research partner of the Freemasons Centre for Male Health & Wellbeing (FCMHW) is a significant milestone to mark during International Men’s Health Week (June 14 to 20).

The involvement of Flinders University considerably broadens the scope and footprint of the Centre’s research and translation activities, creating the largest and most comprehensive entity of its type.

Nine Flinders University research projects will receive funding from this newly expanded male health research alliance, across prostate cancer, Aboriginal health and mental health.

Among them is Professor Murray Drummond (pictured above), whose research will seek to improve the mental health of young indigenous and non-indigenous males in South Australia and the Northern Territory by focusing on the role of sporting clubs as “safe spaces” to promote mental health and wellbeing.

“Sport remains a significant right of passage for males in Australian society and we have a culture of males passing through sporting clubs at early ages,” Professor Drummond explained.

“If we can make these often ‘masculinised’ sporting spaces, spaces for men to feel comfortable about addressing any health issues they have, then that’s going to provide them with such important support, and something that’s far beyond just a game of football or cricket.”

Professor Drummond was grateful for support from the Freemasons Centre for Male Health and Wellbeing for the expanding focus on men’s health. 

“The mental health and wellbeing of young males in particular is not being adequately addressed… they have a significant risk of self-harm and suicide, while those who identify as indigenous and LGBTIQ are at even greater risk,” Professor Drummond said.

“Traditionally there’s been a big focus on medical research, but it’s wonderful the Centre is mirroring the cultural shift in society and taking a holistic approach to men’s health by looking at every facet of health and wellbeing and how that can be improved, including mental, emotional and physical health.”

The Masonic Charities Trust, the charitable arm of Freemasons SA/NT, and Flinders Foundation are contributing an initial $1.2 million over two years for men’s health research based at Flinders University.

Flinders joins the Masonic Charities Trust and existing FCMHW research partners the University of Adelaide, the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) and Menzies School of Health Research.

An initial investment of $4.8m over three years in boys’ and men’s health has been committed by the research partners, with a goal to achieve at least a 4:1 return from commonwealth and other funding pools for high impact programs.

The Masonic Charities Trust is donating a minimum of $2.4m over three years to the FCMHW with the potential to extend its investment a further two years in the first instance.

Bringing together globally recognised leaders in male health, the Centre’s focus is on the common chronic conditions affecting males, including prostate cancer, obesity, diabetes, depression, sleep disorders, and cardiovascular disease as well as health service use and delivery and social and emotional wellbeing. The latest grant round covers: 

Prostate Cancer – Dr Gobert Lee – Deep Decision-Making for Prostate Tumour Gleason Score 7 – Active Surveillance or Radical Treatment?
Associate Professor Michael O’Callaghan – Expanding Clinical Prostate Cancer Research Capacity.
Dr Norma B. Bulamu – Quality of life assessment in routine care for prostate cancer
Associate Professor Luke Selth – Investigating the effects of androgen therapies on the prostate immune system.

Aboriginal Men’s Health – Dr Tamara Mackean – Translation of knowledge into practice: building the wellbeing of Aboriginal men and boys using an ecological framework.
Professor Murray Drummond – Young Males, Masculinity and Mental Health: Attitudes, Behaviours and Education through Sport.

Men and Boys’ Mental Health – Professor Robert Adams – Using COVID-19 pandemic data on mental and physical health in Australian men to design Just In Time Adaptive interventions.
Associate Professor Ben Wadham – Veteran Suicide: Men, Health, Service.
Dr Ryan Balzan – Maximising the effectiveness of psychological treatment for young men with psychosis.

Professor Robert Saint, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at Flinders University, said he was delighted the institution was able to contribute its research expertise to tackling boys’ and men’s health.

“It is well known that males have particular health challenges, such as prostate cancer, and have unmet needs in relation to a range of chronic physical and mental health conditions,” Professor Saint said.

“This burden is even more pronounced for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males, who have the poorest health and shortest lifespan of any population group in Australia. In addition to strengthening ongoing work in this area, Flinders University also delivers research programs aimed to improve the health and wellbeing of young men and Veterans.”

David Booker, the Grand Master of the Freemasons of South Australia and the Northern Territory, said it was important that his organisation’s charity arm supported the ongoing development and reach of a Centre that began in 2007 as the Freemasons Foundation Centre for Men’s Health.

“We want the research, programs and young scientists we support to be representative of our entire jurisdiction, with Freemasons playing important roles in their communities from the bottom of South Australia to the top of the Northern Territory,” Mr Booker said.

“We are therefore very pleased to have Flinders University join the Centre, given its activities spread throughout the central corridor of Australia. Our goal is that by advancing male health and wellbeing, we also improve the health and wellbeing of families and communities.”

The 2021 theme for Men’s Health Week is, “Connecting for Men’s Health”, which resonates with the Centre’s SA director, Professor Gary Wittert, and NT director, Professor James Smith.

“This multidisciplinary and multi-institution Centre is unique in Australia and internationally in men’s health, with capabilities and capacity to address male health across the lifespan,” Professor Wittert said.

Professor Smith said there was, “no better example of the importance of connecting organisations and stakeholders with males to undertake research and co-design strategies to fast-track improvements in male health and wellbeing” than the FCMHW.

The SA division of the FCMHW was launched by Governor Hieu Van Le at SAHMRI in February 2021 and the NT division, based at Menzies, in November 2020.

The Centre builds on a 13-year research partnership, and reputation as leaders in men’s health research, between Freemasons SA/NT and the University of Adelaide.

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