Men’s health, both physical and mental is a topic that often gets brushed under the carpet. Here we explore what is being done to ensure men are receiving the healthcare they need this ‘Movember’
As progressive as we like to think we are in 2021, gender roles still play a huge part in the ways societies function around the world.
The disparity between men and women concerning physical and mental health is an extreme one, but what are the reasons behind this and what can be done to ensure a healthier future for men?
Why are there health disparities between men and women?
According to a number of studies both in the UK and USA male life expectancy is significantly lower than that of women’s, some say by half a decade. Without looking into a biological reason for this disparity – there are many external factors that contribute to this disparity and they need to be addressed and dealt with.
According to the World Health Organisation, ‘men across socioeconomic groups demonstrate unhealthier smoking practices, unhealthier dietary patterns, higher alcohol consumption levels and higher rates of injuries and interpersonal violence than women’. Throughout history, the male gender has been known to live a riskier lifestyle than that of women, however in 2021 why are these practices still being adopted and associated with men.
With men engaging in riskier activities and lifestyle choices they are already at an increased risk of health complications, this increases exponentially when taking into account that close to 60% of American men do not regularly see a doctor unless seriously ill.
Even today, with healthcare research going further than ever before, men are still falling behind women in taking care of themselves. Millions of men are putting themselves at risk by not reporting their medical issues and worries.
Even today, with healthcare research going further than ever before, men are still falling behind women in taking care of themselves.
In a 2019 survey from the American non-profit Cleveland Clinic, the extent to which men, in particular, tend to ignore their health was illustrated. Surveying 1174 American men aged 18 and older the clinic showed that 72% would rather do household chores than see a door and it was shown that 20% of them admitted to not being honest with their doctor.
Cleveland showed that among the 20% of men who had not been entirely honest at the doctor’s the top reasons for doing so included:
- Embarrassment (46%)
- Didn’t want to be told to change their lifestyle/diet (36%)
- They knew something was wrong but weren’t ready to face the diagnosis and/or would rather not know (37%)
Why are men feeling these pressures more than any other gender? And what can the government and general public do to change and reduce this dangerous stigma?
With phrases like ‘man up’ and ‘be a man’ still cropping up in 2021, we need to address the ways in which our ideas of masculinity are affecting men’s health on a global scale. These phrases represent the narrow-minded expectation we continue to have of masculinity. Societal expectations and gender roles control the way in which we interact with each other, the way we perceive ourselves and how we perceive others and their negative impact cannot be overlooked anymore.
These phrases have historically been used as ways to tell men to step up to their responsibilities, be stronger and control their emotions, this is proving to have a detrimental effect on the mental health and subsequently physical wellbeing of men around the world.
In a piece for Esquire magazine, Stuart Heritage addressed that phrases such as ‘man up’ and ‘be a man’ and ‘don’t be a girl’ – are “outdated and destructive. They equate strength with gender. They belittle emotion. They’re dismissive of vulnerability.”
By continuing the use of phrases such as these we are continuing to promote the idea that being open about one’s emotions equals femininity and therefore is not a quality that men should possess. With global statistics illustrating how “on average one man dies by suicide every minute of every day” we cannot afford to continue this dangerous attitude.
What is ‘Movember’?
According to the charity – “since 2003, Movember has funded more than 1,250 men’s health projects around the world, challenging the status quo, shaking up men’s health research and transforming the way health services reach and support men.”
The Australian movement ‘Movember’ began with an idea between two men, and thirty willing participants. It looks at both the physical and mental health of men and encourages an atmosphere of openness and honesty. The core idea is to not shave throughout the month of November as a sign of solidarity and unity to men battling a variety of health issues and to raise awareness for said issues such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and men’s suicide.
By 2005 the organisation had already raised over £500,000 and helped fund 6 men’s health projects. Taking the world by storm, 2020 saw Movember embraced by over 20 countries and in the height of the pandemic, the charity announced funding for 34 separate projects to support the mental health and well-being of men and boys.
The charity is playing a key role that men around the world need. By joining together and openly talking about mental and physical wellbeing, Movember is changing the face of masculinity and pushing society towards a more open and honest future for men’s health.
According to the Mental Health Foundation ‘Men are more likely to use potentially harmful coping methods such as drugs or alcohol and less likely to talk to family or friends about their mental health.’
Mental health in particular appears to be a difficult conversation for men to have both with themselves and others. Historically men have been pushed to deal with their emotions themselves and not seek outside help and support from anyone. With suicide being the biggest killer of men under 45, there needs to be an extended effort into creating inclusive spaces for men to open about their mental health and emotions.
We need to ensure that men are not excluded from the mental health conversation and that the mental health implications of Covid-19 are not ignored or overlooked.
The Pandemic and men’s health
2020 saw the world change dramatically in nearly all areas of living. Nearly everyone felt the shadow of Covid-19 grow and spread, and with international lockdowns being put in place, a global decline in mental health was felt. With lockdowns being introduced around the globe, many were cut off from their familiar support networks and found themselves working from home for the first time in their lives.
In another survey from the Cleveland clinic of men aged 18 and older, it was discovered that 77% of the participants reported that their stress levels had increased throughout the pandemic and 45% said that their emotional and mental health declined.
With men being statistically less likely to reach out for help when concerning their mental health, pandemic hit men’s mental health the hardest. There needs to be a shift in perception surrounding the idea of a ‘strong man’. There needs to be an emphasis on reaching out for help seen as a sign of strength instead of weakness.
We need to promote healthy masculinity, encouraging men to express and communicate their feelings in an open and honest way without violence or embarrassment, promoting the idea that emotions aren’t feminine they are human.
More men died by suicide than women and yet they are less likely to open up about mental health. Toxic masculinity is one of the reasons why. Being vulnerable emotionally is not a feminine thing. It’s ok to talk about it and seek help. Don’t suppress your emotions. #Movember
— Aysha Ridzuan (@ayshardzn) November 3, 2021
Improving mental health internationally needs to be an international priority and men’s mental health needs to be considered a key part of fighting this battle.
Should governments be doing more to reduce suicide rates?
Following positive data on the reduction in male suicide rates in 2017 within the United Kingdom – the charity ‘Mind’ expressed that although the reduction was positive – “There is no room for complacency when it comes to promoting good mental health and preventing suicides.”
They continued on to say that “We know that a significant proportion of people who take their own lives have asked for support for their mental health within the last 12 months” – pointing out the need for more robust and comprehensive mental health services to prevent future suicides in both men and women. and this point is still accurate today. Across the globe, mental health services need improving with increased funding and more thorough training for staff.
The National Institute for Mental Health recommends a number of ways to tackle negative feelings:
- Regular exercise – can be incredibly beneficial to those with depression. Being able to go outside and the increase of endorphins and adrenaline that follows exercise can be extremely healing.
- Finding hobbies and extra-curricular activities
- Strong daily routines – regulating sleep and food along with activities of self-care can be very useful for those in need of structure.
If in need of one-to-one help – or simply a conversation about how you’re feeling there are a number of charities and institutions available, here are a few:
- UK National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK
- Available 24/7
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Lifeline)
- 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Text – HELLO to 741741
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