Would you believe seven out of ten men would rather clean toilets than go to the doctor? Bizarre, but apparently true. And when men do go to the doctor, they’re surprisingly likely to lie about their symptoms.
June is Men’s Health Month and a good time to reflect on the health of ourselves, our brothers, fathers, sons, uncles, mates and work colleagues. This is not just about men, it’s about everyone - healthy men means healthy families and ultimately better communities.
The hardest part of planning this years’ Men’s Health Month has been settling on a single health issue: hard because in our Covid-19 world there’s no single standout problem. Instead it’s a long and growing list. Covid-19 has had a bigger impact on the mental and general health of men than many of us recognise. Stress levels increased, many felt isolated, and emotional and mental health declined during this difficult period.
Traditional concerns for men, like awareness around diet and exercise, are being overtaken by stress and burnout, the need for better communication, healthy relationships and better sleep habits.
Mental health remains a major challenge. Many guys acknowledge that the last two years have been the first time they’ve worried about their own mental wellness. Feelings of fatigue, isolation, loneliness and hopelessness have not been uncommon.For many, social connections went out the window and there were worries that ranged from finances to kids’ schooling. We were in this crazy situation where alcohol was readily available during lockdowns, while gyms and sports were inaccessible. These all served to compound mental health challenges.
Health is not a competition between genders, but it’s often perplexing to compare the health behaviours of men and women. Women are better at communicating about health, more likely to visit a doctor for a check-up and more likely to ask for help when struggling. Women don’t wait for serious illness or even the death of someone close before getting themselves checked. Men, on the other hand, top many stats we’d rather not excel at: drinking to hazardous levels, excessive smoking, suicide and shorter lifespans.
Think about our country’s three-year cycle between general elections, which feels like a long time. Yet the gap between the average lifespan of men and women is longer. The gap between the average lifespan of Māori and non-Māori men is twice as long.
Thankfully it’s not all bad news – we are seeing positives. The good news is that the last two years of elevated stress and mental health challenges have also made men a little more self-aware, a little more proactive about health and a little more honest about ourselves.
From our conversations with men and women from all walks of life, we see more men recognising that asking for help doesn’t mean weakness. More men acknowledge that reaching out actually takes strength and courage. More men accept that mental health issues don’t happen because they’re weak, or stupid, or careless; rather it’s because they are human.Men are even using the word ‘vulnerability’ without fear of being laughed at. How different is that to twenty years ago?This June for Men’s Health Month, we want to launch a new word – “menvolution” to reflect an evolution we’re seeing in what it means to be ‘a man’. There’s a growing acceptance that you don’t have to be the strongest, the best at sport, the most macho or the ‘tough guy’. Health as a man is about mental and physical wellbeing: not physical dominance.
We encourage men to reach out to their support systems. Book in a check-up with your doctor. Check in with your mates today with the ‘Two OK’ rule: “how are you?” followed by: “but how are you really?”
By Pathfinder CEO, John Berry, who is a trustee of Men’s Health Trust New Zealand. This article was published by the NZ Herald on 15 June 2022 and is available here.