Men’s Health – The Last Piece of The Family Health Puzzle
It’s time we start thinking seriously about the future of men’s health, the last critical piece of the health puzzle when it comes to family care.
Have we become so accustomed to men dying earlier than women that it is just an accepted fact in our society? While we understand that this is largely due to behavioral differences, with only 30% of a man’s overall health being determined by his genetics[i].
Behaviors are both challenging to influence and to change once they have been established.[ii] Traditional masculine characteristics—competitiveness, stoicism, stubbornness, denial, and self-reliance—are all also believed to contribute to men’s reluctance to seek help.[iii] So what is it going to take to make a significant change?
For starters we need to change the societal lens on men’s health, and focus on helping men feel more empowered, engaged and confident to make the behavioral adjustments needed to start living healthier lives. 70% of chronic illnesses that effect men are preventable by changing lifestyles and habits.[iv] But even beyond the preventable, dialogue, awareness and education are essential elements of self-care. We should be empowering men to learn to recognize the signs of illness, and help their friends and family to as well.
I have been in the health field for 40 years, and working in urology has given me a portal into the larger picture of men’s overall health. Sometimes in my work, men that came to me as patients had not seen a doctor in years- I realized that this was an opportunity for me to start conversations with them that they may not have had an opportunity to have in the past. I engaged them in conversations to get them thinking about their overall health, both physical and mental, and the link between their lifestyles and risks of developing illnesses such as diabetes and heart attacks.
I want men, young and old, to know that simply being aware of your risks, and starting to think about how to make positive steps in regards to your health, is the first and most significant action you can take for your future health. I want men to know that you don’t need to change much, and small changes in behavior today can have big positive impacts on your overall health tomorrow. Caring about yourself is a reflection of your care for your family, friends and community.
In order to achieve this, we need to look at men’s health in three ways: the precise, preventative and pre-emptive. The precise refers to the way that health professionals and communities communicate with men. We need to personalize the issue, speaking to each unique man in a way that they can relate to, helping them feel empowered and ready to act. The preventative refers to how we need to teach men to better understand their own risk factors, for example by learning about their family history. It’s important that men ask their grandfathers and fathers, while they are still around, about family illnesses and health issues. We want men to become proactive rather than reactive in their behavior. By doing this, we will be able to pre-empt the development of so many different types of chronic illnesses.
We want men to know it’s about the small changes, learning about your family’s medical history, simply getting your blood pressure checked at a local pharmacy if you’re uncomfortable going to a doctor, making minor adjustments to make a bigger impact on their health. There are self-assessment tools available online that can help with this, like the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation’s YouCheck tool (https://youcheck.ca/); a free and confidential health awareness tool built specifically for men.
As I said earlier, it’s not just men, it’s their families, partners, friends and communities. We need to work together to help engage men- fathers, sons, brothers- in conversations around their overall health and wellbeing. Taking small steps together will ensure a strong future for men’s health.
It’s time we complete the puzzle for everyone.
[ii] Goldenberg, Skeldon and Black.“Personalized messaging: Communicating with men about their health” Urology Times, July 2015.
[iii] Goldenberg, Skeldon and Black.“Personalized messaging: Communicating with men about their health” Urology Times, July 2015.