Men’s Health Week: Discussing health with friends
Boys and men alike face unique health challenges at every stage of life.
On top of medical issues dependant on male biology, reports Better Health Victoria, men outnumber women in many non-sex-related causes of death, namely suicide, lung cancers, blood and lymph cancers, chronic lower respiratory diseases, colon and rectum cancers and ischaemic heart disease.
On top of this, Australian men are expected to live to only 79 years of age, five years lower than the average life expectancy of women. This drops even further when looking specifically at groups such as:
- Australian Aborigine and Torres Strait Islander men,
- Men living rurally or remotely,
- LGBTQIA+ men,
- Socially disadvantaged men,
- Men living with disabilities.
In part, these higher mortality rates could be attributed to harmful attitudes about health and strength among many men. For this reason, Tunstall are standing behind Men’s Health Week to talk about this year’s theme, “Making Healthy Connections”.
What does making healthy connections means for men’s health?
Toxic masculinity creates barriers to men seeking professional help for health issues.
Many causes of death for Australian men are connected to entirely preventable or manageable conditions. Too often, a sense of pride or perceived obligation to be stoic demands that a man suffer in silence and is unable to seek help for health issues – both mental and physical – until it’s much too late.
The feeling that stops a man from being able to speak up about his problems is the result of something commonly referred to as “toxic masculinity”. This is the Western definition of masculinity, wherein a man is expected to be strong, silent and take all misfortunes on the chin. You can often see it exemplified in phrases such as “take it like a man” or “man up”. By stifling a man’s chance at expression, he is instead encouraged to turn negativity inwards and can develop depression, anxiety and substance abuse.
Toxic masculinity can also create barriers to men seeking professional help for bodily health issues. Surveys by the University of Connecticut and Rutgers University found that men who believe in masculinity ideals were less likely to seek preventative care and more likely to delay treatment for any injuries or illness. Furthermore, the same men would under-report the frequency of symptoms to doctors, especially male ones. With symptoms under-reported, doctors may misdiagnose the severity of conditions and be unable to provide adequate treatment.
It’s clear that an unwillingness to talk about health problems and emotional turmoil can have major impacts on the wellbeing of men. So what we can do about it? This Men’s Health Week, let’s flip the script and make it clear that talking honestly about our health is never a sign of weakness.
How can we open the dialogue about men’s health?
Talk about your health problems
Perhaps the best way to normalise conversations about men’s health problems is to start within yourself. By consciously rejecting toxic masculinity, you can start to talk openly about your own issues with other people – including men. Make these topics common and comfortable. The more you and the people in your life hear each other talking about them, the more normal they’ll seem.
This way, the men in your life may feel more empowered to talk about what’s affecting them and thereby be more able to manage depressive feelings or identify potential physical health issues. Even just hearing about other people’s complications can prompt an internal dialogue that can lead to seeking a professional diagnosis.
Encourage your mates to seek professional help
Remember that talking about things is just the start – if a man in your life opens up about a health issue, it’s important to suggest a sensible course of action. Don’t perpetuate the cycle of men leaving health problems to escalate. Instead, encourage them to see a medical professional whether that’s a doctor, therapist, osteopath or otherwise.
Addressing complications earlier can help to reduce the impact they have on quality of life and life expectancy.
Stand up against silence
If you hear someone shutting down a discussion because it’s not “manly”, speak up to keep the conversation going. Support your fellow man to feel free to speak his mind about health – knowing there’s someone who will listen can make a huge difference.
Social relationships have the power to turn around the current trends in men’s health outcomes – it just starts with a conversation.
Tunstall Australasia is committed to proactive and preventative healthcare. If you, or someone you know, is living with chronic disease or other health issues, find out how our Connected Health solutions can help.