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University to investigate men’s mental health and wellbeing after being awarded multimillion-euro funding by EU

Step by step

MEN are on average 20 per cent less likely than women to seek prompt medical help when they need it and rates of suicide and depression are increasing across Europe, a study has found.

An innovative cross-border project, Step By Step (SBS), has been granted European Union funding to help address the issue in the United Kingdom, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, and is being delivered in the UK by Hampshire and Kent by County Councils with partnership organisations in the other countries.The project is being led by The Health and Europe Centre with the University of Chichester completing the project evaluation.

The project is worth €4,356,677, with €2,614,006 coming from the European Regional Development Fund’s Interreg V 2 Seas programme. The rest will be match-funded by project partners.

The partners have established that there is a clear demand for community activities aimed at improving men’s health and wellbeing and reducing social isolation, as well as for skills transfer between generations, to bring more people into the labour market, reducing unemployment (rates of which are higher than the national average in most of the partners’ areas).

SBS’s target group is specifically male, notably socially isolated men, and those with poor mental health or wellbeing – although women will be welcome to use the new services the project will provide.  Men will be empowered to participate in the social life of their communities, and to engage actively with the labour market, so they can make sustainable, positive changes in their lives, benefitting themselves and their communities.

The project believes this will lead to healthier individuals, causing a reduction in the costs of treating physical and mental health, and to those healthier individuals being able to play an active role in the labour market, reducing the number of days lost to ill health.

Interreg

Partners will work together to develop a model for workshops or community spaces where men will meet to learn skills and engage in other activities to improve their mental and physical health and wellbeing – and then to implement this model through 94 workshops across the cross-border area. 

Participants in these workshops will also be trained to be champions for this new approach, as well as in soft skills (including interviewing, empowerment).  Creative uses of technology will also be developed, to engage with men who prefer not to talk directly about health or unemployment, but may open up in the context of doing something practical or competitive. 

Dr Ruth Lowry, a Reader in the Psychology of Active Living from the University of Chichester’s Institute of Sport, will be leading the evaluation of the project.  This will involve assessing the impact of these workshops and community spaces on participants’ mental and physical health as well as their wellbeing, community engagement and employability.

Professor Seamus Higson, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Sustainability and Enterprise at the University of Chichester, said: “Step By Step will make real difference to men in our area, be they social isolated or in poor mental or physical health.  The approaches the project will develop, through the workshops – including social engagement, skills development and confidence-building – will not only benefit them, but also the wider community.  We believe the SBS model will be highly transferable, in this country and beyond, and will empower individuals to re-engage with society and employment.”

The project aims to engage 6,000 men across its four-year lifecycle, with 600 of them going on to gain employment, saving public services over €7m. In the regions of the countries involved in the project, the increase in engagement and dialogue should reduce suicide rates by seven per cent and led to ten per cent fewer hospital admissions in the target group, saving a further €63k per year.