“Anyone who tells you fatherhood is the greatest thing that can happen to you, they are understating it.” ~ Mike Myers via Brainy Quote
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As we near the end of National Men’s Health Week (June 13th to 19th, 2016) and celebrate Father’s Day today, I wanted to take this opportunity to think and talk about the well-being of the men in our lives. Today also marks my husband’s 45th birthday. If you have a man or men in your life, whether it be a partner, father, brother, friend, or if you are a physician who has men as patients, you would probably agree that in general, men don’t tend to their own health needs the way women do. Statistically speaking, men are less likely to visit healthcare providers and according to a Harvard Health article, Why Men Often Die Earlier Than Women, “The average lifespan is about 5 years longer for women than men in the U.S., and about 7 years longer worldwide” (2016).
What can we do to strengthen the well-being of the men in our lives?
I believe that we should start with the following 3 things:
1) Reduce stigma around mental health: In the medical culture, we often hear concerns voiced by physicians and medical trainees that a stigma exists around admitting you need help or are suffering from a mental illness. This stigma correlates with the experience of some men who are often seen as the ‘strong’ ones, responsible for caring for the rest of the family.
This month an article appeared in the Vancouver sun, Opinion: Stigma Fuels Men’s Resistance to Seek Help for Mental Illness, that drew some widespread attention. The article addresses some awareness strategies to improve health outcomes of men, in particular, encouraging men to express themselves in positive ways and challenge masculine stereotypes.
2) Reduce isolation: Being less socially connected is linked to higher death rates, and overall, men are thought to be more socially isolated than women. According to the article Social Isolation and Gender by Debra Vandervoort, “men are generally more socially isolated than women because they do not create adequate emotional intimacy when they are not in partnership with a significant other” (2012). This concept of solitude and the inherent dangers of it, is seen as a modern day problem, even though we are digitally more connected than ever.
The Globe and Mail article Life of Solitude: A Loneliness Crisis is Looming discusses this important topic so well. As they point out, loneliness is linked to emotional distress and suicide risk, and even makes one more vulnerable to general health problems – it is as dangerous as either smoking or being obese.
3) Reduce risk factors: Some risk factors are more obvious than others such as smoking, excessive alcohol intake and drug use. However, other serious risk factors exist that may put men at a higher risk due to their greater level of involvement compared to women. Some of these activities and behaviours include risk taking (i.e. speed, recreational activities) and dangerous work (i.e. military, construction).
One of the universal risk factors towards our wellness is stress, and although men and women may have similar levels of stress, the way they handle it is completely different. Women tend to be more open about it and seek ways to manage it. Men tend to deny their symptoms and engage in activities they enjoy (i.e. sports) without actively or consciously searching for ways to reduce their level of stress.
How can we help men reduce the variables that impact their well-being?
1) We must support them in their quest to show vulnerability and to seek help when necessary.
2) We need to increase awareness about the impact negative emotions, mental health challenges and loneliness can have on their overall well-being and survival.
3) We should not hold them to a gender standard and/or stereotype at any age – all men should feel free to express their emotions (i.e. cry), be nurturing and be creative.
4) We must encourage positive health behaviours such as safety gear, seeking medical help when necessary and engaging in stress relieving activities such as mindfulness/meditation and physical activity/yoga.
I want to wish a Happy Father’s Day to all fathers, and in particular, a special Father’s Day/Birthday wish to my wonderfully, amazing husband of almost 20 years.