For all the jokes about man-flu, men are generally more likely to suffer from a range of serious health conditions. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), the most striking health difference between men and women is that men are almost three times more likely to suicide than women. With these shocking numbers, why are women still doing most of the heavy lifting when it comes to men’s health?
The battle of the sexes is well and truly won when it comes to health. Men drink more alcohol, smoke more, eat fewer vegetables, drink more sugary drinks, and are more likely to be obese. And although women are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, men more commonly struggle with addiction and have significantly higher suicide rates.
Despite the stakes being high, it’s commonly understood that men are less likely to engage in self-care and more likely to rely on women to keep their health on track. No doubt stemming from the history of mothers being caregivers, it can be a small (and not entirely erroneous) leap to think that female partners will assume that role later in life.
How men can feel empowered to take care of their health
There are a number of things that could change the status quo so men can take a more active role in their physical and mental health.
Talk about roles and responsibilities
Consider all the factors that influence the relationship positions you take, and how it serves you to continue to do so. Consider the downsides of perpetuating gender roles by taking on more care, or relenting control of your health to someone else.
View health and self-care as a sign of pride
Communicate and reinforce the idea that being proactive about health is attractive and strengthening, rather than a sign of weakness. Men should understand that these issues, and their level of health, impacts on others like partners and children – which should hopefully be encouragement enough to seek treatment.
Embrace team versus individual
We are at our best when we work together. As women commonly do, men should consider exercising together. This can provide an avenue to open up further conversations about psychological and physical health between friends. An exercise buddy is an excellent way to cement the habit, as we are more likely to show up when we are accountable to someone else.
Explore the meaning of neglect
Rather than dismiss neglectful behaviour, men should stop and ask themselves: why am I putting that appointment off? Why am I choosing to live with the uncertainty about my health? What am I afraid of? If I do need change to my behaviour, like drinking less, what is my problem with that?
Normalise self-care for men
Self-care culture is there for the taking. When scrolling social media or flicking through magazines, it’s evident there is an active movement to destigmatise men’s self-care and shed light on issues like mental health – think International Men’s Health Week and Movember. Join Facebook communities, follow Instagram pages, or subscribe to a magazine – immersing yourself in this culture will make you realise self-care isn’t so scary.