No matter what your father was like, most of us will have a man in our lives that we care about. Men have traditionally been the providers, protectors and pillars of homes and communities. Even with changing customs and ways of thinking, there are still expectations that men put on themselves, or have put on them by society. In healthcare, we have had to work hard to challenge the mindset that it is weak for men to ask for help, but I still see many men who will only see a doctor ‘because their wife made them come’. Sometimes, it is not that they worry about being considered weak, but they are actually afraid of what they might find out from the doctor. Thankfully, we have tried to remove so many barriers to access and men can now get information and help from the privacy of their own homes. Home blood pressure machines, free reliable health information pages like nhs.uk, self referral to mental health services and home testing kits for infections make it easier for men to get help or diagnoses without the ‘embarrassment’ of seeing a doctor. Telephone consultations during the current pandemic have been an easier option for some for discussing health problems with their doctors.
It is important to remember that health is not merely the absence of disease, but a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. Just because a man can walk to work everyday and take out the rubbish at home every evening does not mean all is well. Especially in a difficult year like 2020, it is important to look after men’s mental health. People can often mask their emotional problems with ‘busyness’ and jokes, but they are more likely to open up when we engage them in quality conversations. It is okay for anyone to cry, feel sad or stressed from time to time. It becomes a problem when these feelings persist for weeks, sometimes involving persistent negative thoughts of hopelessness, anxiety, guilt and/or shame. It can begin to affect their level of functioning when there is also poor sleep, poor concentration, isolation and lack of motivation. Sadly, depression is often more obvious at this stage, but we can support each other everyday to prevent things from getting this bad. Encouraging men to have time to do the things they enjoy without guilt, telling them how much we appreciate them, having a positive atmosphere in the home, reducing financial and childcare responsibilities to manageable levels for each individual can help maintain mental health in the long term.
Physical health is also important, because it will be frustrating to be held back from enjoying life in our later years because of an unfit body. It is important to encourage men to exercise regularly, eat healthy meals, control their food portion sizes, get vaccinated and go for health screening tests when invited. Exercise releases feel-good hormones, so you do not have to be trying to lose weight before you exercise.
Going for long walks together as a family can be good for social, physical and mental well-being. Recipes from certain cultures are more likely to be high in salt and fat, but we can show love for our men by offering them healthy alternatives that taste good. Alcohol excess, ‘big tummies’, obesity and smoking do not make men more ‘macho’. In fact, these factors increase their risk of having a stroke or heart attack! Ignoring treatment and monitoring for long term conditions such as diabetes and hypertension do not make you a “real man”, it increases risk of complications like erectile dysfunction, blindness, kidney failure and amputations. We all have to take responsibility for looking after our own health, because there is only so much health professionals and family can do, but know that it is okay to ask for help. No man is an island, so stay safe and stay connected.
Written by Dr Afiniki Akanet, author of Fortitude and Life Without Coffee (Choosing Happiness Over Stress) - Afiniki.co.uk