How Do We Get More Men to Take Care of Their Physical and Mental Health?
A Case for Highlighting Self-Care for Men
By Hanna Kim - November 27, 2019
Movember Brings Awareness About Men’s Health Issues
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This past month, you might have noticed an uptick in men at your office, gym, or friend group who don patchy new beards. You might even be experiencing some itchiness as you attempt to grow one yourself.
Do you know the significance of "no-shave November," or Movember? This annual event has been raising awareness of men’s health issues since 2003. According to the nonprofit's website, men around the world die an average of six years earlier than women, largely from preventable health issues.
One contributing factor is that men are less engaged with their personal health than women. A large-scale survey by the Commonwealth Fund found for every woman who had not seen a doctor in the past year, three men had not received any healthcare in the same timespan. Men who sustain traditional views of masculinity are the least likely to get necessary medical care, including routine checkups. This means diseases that are preventable in earlier stages, like prostate cancer, slip under the radar until it’s too late.
Ideas About Traditional Gender Roles Is Harmful to Men’s Health
Research produced by global gender justice non-profit Promundo and Axe found that men who stick to rigid gender roles were statistically significantly more likely to be depressed. Many men struggle with opposing feelings of wanting to be accepted by society yet gaining that acceptance by acquiescing to cultural expectations that may not align with their true selves.
The ‘macho mentality,’ is perpetuated for many men by the media and often also the people they are close to - their friends, romantic partners, and parents. Traditional gender roles say that men should be self-sufficient with their physical and emotional health - boys are taught at a young age that in order to be a real man, they shouldn’t bring up their personal problems with others. The idea that men need to appear tough and maintain an outward appearance of strength despite what they may be feeling reinforces unhealthy behavior for men.
Sticking to outdated social norms puts men's health and well-being at risk. The inability to feel and cope with emotions affects means’ life satisfaction, self-confidence, mental and physical health. Suicide is the leading cause of death in the US for those under the age of 34, and the third leading cause for ages 35-54 (excluding unintentional injury), and the suicide rate for men is 4 times higher than that of women.
Normalizing Self Care for Men
It is far more culturally acceptable for women to prioritize wellness, and we see many magazines, blogs, and books catered to women's’ health. This means women are more open to leaning on friends or seeking healthcare when they need it. This is especially a concern when it comes to mental health.
Instead of processing mental health issues in a healthy manner such as talking to a friend or professional, men feel more pressure to keep their personal problems to themselves and are more prone to unhealthy behaviors like binge drinking, poor diet, limited exercise, and excessive isolation from others.
The effects of the lack of proper personal health management for men are well known. The good news is, more and more men are onto the many benefits of regular self-care and more men are starting to engage in holistic self-care practices. One optimistic figure comes from a study from The Yoga Alliance: the number of male yoga practitioners rose from 4 million in 2012 to 10 million in 2016.
Only more good can come from breaking counterintuitive gender boundaries and normalizing self-care for more men. Let's encourage self-care and wellness for everyone!