June is Men’s Health Month, a time to reflect on the health of our brothers, fathers, sons, uncles, mates and work colleagues. What better way to do this than ask for views from ten Kiwi men and ten awesome women.
The ten men are from wide ranging occupations like construction, farming, finance, art, healthcare, sport and the charity sector. The wahine include executives, educators, business owners, a healthcare professional and a writer. Like the country we live in, they’re a diverse bunch across their work, their life view and the communities they mix in.
Their views on the challenges for men over the last twelve months showed amazing consistency.
We’ve just lived through a period like no other, with Covid-19 driving off-the-scale stress for men and women. Some acknowledged this was the first time they have worried about their mental health.
The consistent view is there’s change for men, real change. There’s no longer just an acknowledgement that mental and physical wellness are important, there’s acceptance that these are connected and inter-woven, they aren’t separate.
Secondly, all men have heard we should shift from ‘she’ll be right’ to ‘it’s ok to ask for help’. Well, it seems men have started believing it.
Another positive is how many noted that men are more conscious of the impact their actions and words have on others. And by ‘others’ we’re not just talking about other men, but the impact on women and other ethnicities. That’s progress.
But there’s also negatives. A common complaint is that to take health seriously men first require serious illness or even the death of someone close. The feeling – across men and women - is that guys aren’t proactive enough getting checked, and too often ‘death and fear’ drive change.
Also consistent is the distinction between older and younger Kiwi males. In general, younger men are seen as different to generations before. They are more willing to talk about feelings and problems, and often have a better grip on the consequences of their eating and alcohol consumption.
Younger men are also, apparently, more open to ideas around sexuality and health.
A common thought is that while many older males have embraced new ideas, too many still hold onto how things were in the past. Like being stoic and not communicating.
The last year has been one of unseen stress for farmers, business owners and communities generally. Feelings of fatigue, isolation, loneliness and hopelessness are not uncommon. Our healthcare system deals with this, but we should all aspire to spot it among our whanau. None of us want those close to suffer extreme anger, suicide attempts or domestic violence.
But a big plus - our Kiwi men all expressed optimism for tomorrow. Everyone has concerns – they may worry about children, finances, our planet’s future or our increasingly unequal society. But overall men are positive and hopeful.
While the last twelve months have been challenging for our communities, there’s a shift for the better. I’m encouraged to hear women say that men who are aggressive playing rugby or league are also sensitive and kind off the field. I’m encouraged to hear our construction industry addressing mental health, men using the word ‘vulnerability’ and men talking about ‘elevated levels of gratitude’. I’m warmed when men acknowledge the benefit of a disrupted twelve months has been valuable time with family.
We still have a way to go. Men can be faster to accept girls taking up a trade than accepting boys ‘dressing like a girl’ and expressing more feminine traits.
To sum it up - the last twelve months have seen stress and mental health challenges, but frankly it has made us men a little more honest about ourselves.