The Men’s Health Week catch cry of 2017 “Healthy Body, Healthy Mind, Keeping the Balance” is a great theme and one that resonates with Mental Health and the key elements to living a strong life. Better holistic health promotion amoungst men would certainly make a difference. As a mental health support worker I’ve seen the long-term damage caused by the ‘culture of indifference’ that some men practise towards their own self care. Initiatives like Men’s Health Week are crucial to bringing these into consideration so that they can be examined both on an individual basis and as part of a broader community agenda.

There is a strong tie between physical and mental health. If men were more informed and more concerned about their general health, then men’s self care would be common place, leading to less mental health emergencies and less incidences of men becoming mentally ill.

It takes a community to accomplish this. Women are light years ahead when it comes to making sure they have a check up with their GP. Unfortunately the only reason the majority of men go to the GP is if they are so sick they are just about incapacitated, or for a physical exam mandated by their job.

Culture & Self Care

Men’s culture around being proactive about their own health care is very poor. Within the social construct of Hegemonic Masculinity (Gough, 2007) we see men less likely to admit pain and distress, thinking that they are stronger for being able to withstand it. This stops men from accessing support for their pain, whether emotional or physical.

To tackle this, men need to support men, be more aware of their own bodies and mental state and more readily accept treatment and support. Where there are groups, community activities or organizations that have involvement from men, self care needs to be on the agenda to change this damaging barrier to health and wellbeing.

The Cost of Men’s Health

Poor mental health within the male community costs our economy well over 3.27 billion (Counting the Cost, Inspire Foundation and Ernst & Young 2012).

The cost are so great that The Australian Government will invest $7.3 million over four years to build the evidence based solutions in male health care (National Longitudinal Study on Male Health.)

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013) Leading Causes of Death sees men dying of illness and disease at a much higher rate than women. Many of these deaths could be avoided with earlier intervention, greater awareness surrounding self care and more informed community support.

Some examples of leading illnesses that shorten life or cause death and the percentage of likelihood of male death compared to women:

  • Heart disease – 26%
  • Blood and lymph cancer including leukemia – 35%
  • Chronic lower respiratory disease – 13%
  • Colon and rectum cancer – 23%
  • Diabetes – 13%
  • Suicide – 212%

Normalising Mental Illness

What men and mentors of men in communities need to understand is that anyone can become mentally unwell within a negative environment, with erosion of a person’s resilience or the experience of a traumatic event. Mental ill health does not make you ‘lesser’ or ‘weak.’ It is a common condition that can affect anyone during certain stages of their lives. In fact in any given year, approximately one in every five Australians will experience a mental illness. – Mindframe

Mental ill health is often a reflection of everyday emotions or thought and is something that most people can relate to in some way. For example most of us have experienced a day or more of extremely low mood, however with Depression this does not stop. It can be months of darkness and demotivation.

Paranoia can be seen in the everyday too, such as wondering if you locked your door on the way out (…did you!?!)

An example of compulsive disorders could be feeling like you can’t get your hands cleans after a dirty job or a compulsion to clean the house a certain way.

Being aware of your mental wellness is an important tool in being able to identify if you need support or treatment if things are not going so great. When your everyday feelings and thoughts get out off hand or are impacting your ability to function, carry out tasks or relate to others – it could be time to seek support.

Back to Basics

During times where I have supported people and staff it is very clear that low levels of self care and personal resilience directly affect a persons ability to stay healthy, both physically and mentally.

“Back to Basics” is a concept I find very relevant to people who were unwell or heading that way. It supports the holistic idea of ‘Healthy Body, Healthy Mind.’ Clearing away the clutter and focusing on fundamentals really helps to maintain reliance. A few questions we ask:

  • Are you eating a healthy mix of the main food groups?
  • Are you sleeping ?
  • Are you catching up with friends?
  • Are you feeling organised with you finances?
  • Are you in touch with people that care for you?
  • Are you feeling ok physically? Do you see a good GP?
  • Do you exercise, walk, play sport?

With motivational interviewing, pulling out the basics in regards to diet, physical and emotional health, social needs and hobbies or interests gives people a chance to look at their own self care.

With the support of the community, a greater level of self care and self awareness men can maintain a healthy lifestyle, protect their own mental wellness and build the resilience that protects them from becoming unwell.

Joel is the Manager of Mental Health and Disability Services at CHESS Employment. He has a personal interest in addressing homelessness, domestic violence and supporting social justice activities within the local community. He loves guiding his staff in supporting people in their recovery journey towards independence and self agency.