While scrolling through the internet one evening, I came across the above image. My first reaction, as I’m sure would be the case with many people who see it, was to let out a slight laugh at the joke and carry on scrolling. However, while the joke may be amusing, the original message clearly isn’t, and I have since had cause to consider whether the joke highlights a more serious issue.
This billboard was part of an American campaign from the early 2010s to encourage men to stop avoiding the doctor and get the early screening tests recommended for issues such as cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and other illnesses. It followed research from the U.S. Government Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Department suggesting that men were 24% less likely than women to have visited the doctor in the previous year, and 30% more likely than women to have been hospitalised for preventable conditions.
However, this image is now almost 10 years old, and my first thought was that with the prominence of awareness campaigns such as Movember, surely men’s attitudes would have changed. Regrettably, this does not appear to be the case.
Research published by Bupa in 2019 suggested that even after the success of Movember and similar campaigns, men are still reluctant to seek help. As many as 80% of men would choose to endure an illness, and almost 40% let symptoms get to the point where pain is unbearable before attending a doctor. More than a quarter of men stated that they would endure pain for longer than 3 weeks before seeking treatment.
There are many reasons men don’t seek help, ranging from societal pressure to appear strong and “man up”, to fear over what they may find out, from embarrassment over their condition, to feeling reluctant to waste a doctor’s time given the ever increasing pressures in the NHS. However, one in 5 men will die before the age of 65 and these deaths can sometimes be prevented.
Physical conditions, such as cancer and heart disease are much more likely to be treated successfully with early diagnosis and it is therefore essential that people attend their doctor if they have any issues. Having a partner who lost a husband to cancer at a young age has given me a great understanding of the impact of losing a loved one to a tragic illness, and the pain does not ever really go away. Therefore, I would strongly encourage anyone who has concerns over their physical health to seek the appropriate treatment. If not only for themselves, but also for their loved ones.
However, it is not only our physical health we should be aware of as mental illness can be equally as damaging. Figures from 2018 show that suicide is the leading cause of death for men under the age of 50 and, of the 6000 people on average who take their own lives every year, 75% are men. To put this into perspective, this equates to approximately 1 man every 2 hours taking his own life.
But why don’t men talk about their mental health? The reasons are numerous and to a degree echo the reasons men don’t attend their doctors. The Mental Health Foundation states that “Societal expectations and traditional gender roles play a role in why men are less likely to discuss or seek help for their mental health problems. We know that gender stereotypes about women – the idea they should behave or look a certain way, for example – can be damaging to them. But it’s important to understand that men can be damaged by stereotypes and expectations too.
“Men are often expected to be the breadwinners and to be strong, dominant and in control. While these aren’t inherently bad things, they can make it harder for men to reach out for help and open up.
“Some research also suggests that men who can’t speak openly about their emotions may be less able to recognise symptoms of mental health problems in themselves, and less likely to reach out for support.
“Men may also be more likely to use potentially harmful coping methods such as drugs or alcohol and less likely to talk to family or friends about their mental health. However, there is research to suggest that men will access help when they feel it meets their preferences, and is easily accessed, meaningful, and engaging”.
There are campaigns and groups seeking to address these issues, change the way men think about their mental health and provide support.
Andy’s Man Club is a registered charity in England and Wales that was formed in Halifax by men who just wanted to talk. The club was founded following the suicide of Andy Roberts at the age of 23 and now has 45 clubs across the UK and continues to grow. Their goal is simple, to break down stigmas and get men talking.
Men’s Health Week 2021 takes place from 14 June 2021 to 20 June 2021. Men’s Health Week aims to bring awareness to health issues that affect men disproportionately and focuses on getting men to become aware of problems they may have or could develop, and to gain the courage to do something about it.
Information regarding this event can be found on The Men’s Health Forum Website and there are a number of related campaigns to get involved in. The focus of the event in 2021 is Men, Mental Health, and COVID-19. COVID-19 has undoubtedly been challenging for everyone’s mental health. Whether it’s isolation from lockdown, fear in relation to job security, anxiety over illness, or adapting to the ‘new normal’ as we readjust to life following what was hopefully the worst of the pandemic anxieties are bound to remain.
Before the pandemic, men’s mental health was a cause for concern, with men often reluctant to seek help when needed, but post lockdown these issues could easily be amplified. Men’s Health Week 2021 looks to raise awareness of the issues men are facing with their mental health and if you want to get involved then I would encourage you to visit The Men’s Health Forum Website for further information and share this with your friends and family.
The Men’s Health Forum are encouraging as many people as possible to particulate in the CAN DO challenge and share their participation here and on social media. The challenge calls on everyone to take part in one of the activities which make up to the five ways to wellbeing on each day of Mental Health Week. The Forum advises that there is good evidence that the 5 specific things that make up the five ways to wellbeing can make a big difference.
The five ways to wellbeing are:
– To Connect with other people: #connectmonday
– To be Active, get some exercise or just generally move your body: #activetuesday
– To take Notice and be mindful of your surroundings, maybe switch off your devices and take some time out to enjoy nature: #noticewednesday
– Discover or learn something new, for example read a book you haven’t read before: #discoverthursday
– Offer to do something for someone else, for example volunteer your time to help someone who needs it, or make a donation to a charity: #offerfriday
If you feel that your wellbeing could be improved, or you know someone who would benefit from participating, or if you simply want to be involved, then I would encourage you to take part in the challenge and share this with others.