So, why do we need a Men’s Health Week?
Since it began in 2015, Men’s Health Week (MHW) has covered diverse themes including diabetes, waist size and stress; this year it’s focused on “Mental Health in a Covid World”.
Although data from the Office of National Statistics show that men are twice as likely to die from COVID as women, there isn’t any obvious sign that men have been more mentally affected by the impact of the disease. There is, however, evidence that men are not as good at talking about their health (mental or physical) as women. While our attitudes to gender have changed and continue to change, it seems that some negative aspects of masculinity endure.
Men are less likely to seek care, and when they do, they can find it difficult to talk about their health problems. With mental health issues, without a physical lump or rash to prove that they’re unwell, the perceived stigma becomes even greater.
Is it John Wayne’s fault?
It seems that gender stereotyping plays a role. Men are somewhat socialised not to show weakness and perceive a medical consultation as merely asking for help. Interestingly, once a man has retired from work, his GP service usage is as frequent as a woman’s.
The first thing that’s needed to improve mental health is an understanding that there’s a problem, and a lot of men don’t want to confront that or talk about it because they see it as showing their vulnerability.
So, what gets men to engage with their health (mental or otherwise)?
Humour seems to be quite effective: an attempt to defuse the reality of the issue, maybe, but also a means to start a conversation with less stigma. A successful campaign like Movember was built on the basis of a dodgy pun and facial hair of questionable taste, but has generated millions of pounds and helped raise awareness of men’s health issues.
Using specifically male language (saying “fighting fat” rather than “dieting”) and male-focused environments (involvement of sports teams for example) in campaigns and literature around disease awareness tends to be effective.
As an example of something that works: Man Therapy - an overtly male, humorous mental health campaign started in Canada in 2012 - is still going strong, based on this YouTube lead.
What’s happening for Men’s Health Week 2021?
Men’s Health Forum produces materials that target men with health awareness information using language tailored to reach men.
The “CAN DO Challenge” brings together five activities that help wellbeing, one for each day of Men’s Health Week. Click the poster to find out more.