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Sunday, December 5, 2021

‘Man up’: Has toxic masculinity led to a decrease in men’s health?


Men, this November, focus on making health your top priority moving forward.

You may have heard of “Movember” or “no shave November”, you may have even sported a bushy mustache yourself in consolidation. But what is Movember and why are men encouraged to grow their mustaches during the month of November? 

What you may not know is that this is done in an aim to raise awareness on and spark conversations around men’s health issues to mark men’s health awareness month, particularly testicular and prostate cancer, as well as mental health.

But why raise awareness on men’s health? 

To put it simply, men are dying too young. Gender is one of the most consistent predictors of health and life expectancy, where, globally, men die on average six years earlier than women.

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According to the World Health Organization, men, across socioeconomic groups, are more likely to be smokers, have unhealthy dietary patterns, and are more likely to demonstrate higher alcohol consumption levels, higher rates of injuries and experience more interpersonal violence than their female counterparts. 

Given that they tend to engage in riskier activities and lifestyle choices than women, this already puts them in the disadvantaged situation of having an increased risk for health complications. This risk increases dramatically when you take into account that approximately 60% of men do not seek medical attention until they are seriously ill. 

In addition, men are also more likely to experience poor mental health than women. Even though men’s depression is underdiagnosed, they are approximately 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than women. According to estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO), 510, 000 men die from suicide worldwide every year. 

To put that into perspective, that is about one suicide per minute. 

According to statistics from the UK, men, on average also tend to report lower levels of life satisfaction than women. They are also significantly less likely to access psychological therapies than women. Men also report worse sleep quality, shorter sleeping times, longer sleep-onset latency and lower sleep efficiency. 

Experts say that the underlying reason for these disparities is toxic masculinity, where they are taught and even pressured by society to “man up” meaning to value qualities labelled as ‘masculine’ such as stoicism, controlling emotions, and isolation. This leads to them dismissing their emotions instead of feeling or regulating them. 

When it comes to cancer diagnoses, prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men worldwide, accounting for 26% of all diagnoses. Statistics tell us that around 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime, with the average age of diagnosis being around 66. Alarmingly, these cases are expected to almost double to reach an estimated 1.7 million cases by 2030. 

While prostate cancer is extremely common, the good news is that around 90% of all prostate cancers that are detected early, when the cancer is still confined to the prostate or the region surrounding it, can be treated successfully. 

In the US, the five-year survival rate for men that are diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer is higher than 99%. This further emphasises the importance of early detection and awareness.

It is for these reasons that men (and women) across the globe come together each year during November to raise awareness on the hidden

How to prioritise your mental health

There are many small daily lifestyle changes men can make to put their health first, and to become generally healthier and stronger. Here are a few:

Eating right, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight can increase overall energy levels and decrease your risk for certain diseases. The main focus should be on getting your recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables, choosing whole grains and substituting full-fat dairy products to low-fat, skimmed, or plant based. We all know that being overweight or obese increases our risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Through eating healthy meals, controlling portion sizes, and making sure to be physically active, we can help avoid this.

Quitting smoking is another step in the right direction given that smoking is linked to many of the leading causes of death worldwide such as cancer, lung disease and stroke. Some of the health benefits of quitting smoking come into effect much faster than expected. The earlier you quit, the faster your body begins to recover. By only one year after quitting smoking, a person’s risk for coronary heart disease decreases to half. 

Making time for routine exams and screenings can help save your life. Ask your physician just how often you need to be examined and screened for certain diseases and conditions (this will vary from person to person depending on your medical history, age, lifestyle, and risk factors). Once you have an idea of how often you should have a general checkup, it is important to schedule and prioritise these visits. 

Read also: Having trouble sleeping? Signs of sleeping disorders you shouldn’t ignore

Managing stress and getting enough sleep is also extremely important. Even though balancing work and obligations toward your family can be increasingly challenging, it is crucial to protect your mental and physical health in order for you to be the best version of yourself for you first and foremost, and for your family. Therefore, plan your day in a way that you make room for doing at least one thing for yourself that you enjoy and that de-stresses you. Making sure that you get enough sleep should also be a priority, seeing as sleep deprivation can affect mood and overall health. 

Staying safe could mean wearing your seatbelt, following safety rules in the workplace, wearing sunscreen and paying attention to your health is of great importance. But it also means being aware of the messages your body is trying to send you. Chest pain, shortness of breath, problems with urination and excessive thirst are all symptoms that shouldn’t be ignored. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, please make sure to see a doctor right away.

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