Now that we are in the thick of the month of June, it is time to celebrate Men’s Health Awareness Month. Thankfully, we get all month to do so! One of the ways I am celebrating this holiday month is by discussing the significance of self-care within the lives of men. There is a plethora of reasons why discussing men’s self-care routines is necessary. The World Health Organization (WHO) has progressed through several definitions of Self-Care over the years. Most recently, in 2013, WHO defined self-care by stating, “Self-Care is the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, and maintain health and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health-care provider.”
Men Do Not Typically Prioritize Self-Care
Starting with the bad news: Males are generally terrible at practicing routine self-care. As a male, I do not like admitting some of these findings. The evidence of this is abundant and I will start by reluctantly sharing some of the statistics. Brace yourself… We will start with life expectancy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, while looking at all races and origins in the United States, a male born in 2014 is anticipated to live for an average of 76.5 years while a female is anticipated to live for an average of 81.3 years. That is a difference of 4.8 years! Some good news is that this gap between males and females has decreased slightly over recent years. There are various factors associated with this gap in life expectancy between males and females, but I will stay focused on the issue of self-care. It is no secret that men are more reluctant than women to seek help from health professionals. Michael E. Addis and James R. Mahalik have looked closely at the role of masculine gender role socialization play in a man’s decision to seek help with his issues. Addis and Mahalik state, “… Many of the tasks associated with seeking help from a health professional, such as relying on others, admitting a need for help, or recognizing and labeling an emotional problem, conflict with the messages men receive about the importance of self-reliance, physical toughness, and emotional control.” They go on to also say, “… internalizing the ideological position that men should be tough, competitive, and emotionally inexpressive can have detrimental effects on a man’s physical and mental health.”
Education Can Help
Now onto the good news: there is hope. Craig F. Garfield, Anthony Isacco and Timothy E. Rogers discuss the issue of men’s health by stating, “Health care professionals can help men by acknowledging and normalizing their concerns related to seeking help. In addition, clinicians can affirm men for seeking help and reframe the experience as having the courage or strength to live healthy.” As a therapist at Lakeview Health at The Woodlands, one of my goals is to validate the courage that is required of those who are making efforts to live a life of recovery, which includes routine practice of self-care. Reframing the ideas around the practice of self-care within the lives of men is essential if these trends are going to continue to grow. Garfield, et al. give multiple examples of what this might look like. One example provided includes men with poor eating habits. Clinicians can reframe the idea of healthy eating by using athletes as an example. Athletes typically are required (or highly encouraged) to eat in a healthy manner. This idea in combination with a healthy exploration of what an individual man’s idea is of identifying as masculine can result in a reframed idea of self-care. Garfield and his colleagues go on to also state, “Led by new journals such as this (American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine), the Office of Men’s Health, and a growing number of resources and programs specializing in men’s health, the development of high-quality men’s health seems ever closer.” Other examples of resources listed that are specific to men’s health include journals and organizations such as American Journal of Men’s Health (AJMH), Journal of the Psychology of Men and Masculinity, Men’s Coping Project, American Men’s Studies Association, Journal of Men’s Health, International Society for Men’s Health (ISMH), and Fathering: A Journal of Theory, Research, and Practice About Men as Fathers. In addition to these organizations and journals, there is a trend of men’s health and clinical health service sites that are purely directed at addressing the specific needs of men. A list of these resources can be found within the article by Garfield, et al. listed within the resources at the end. While having access to empirically supported research journals and men’s health service sites are wonderful advancements in the clear need for men to improve their overall health, preventative self-care is also an essential element to improving men’s overall health. What I am referring to here are the daily activities that one does that directly contribute to effectively coping and managing overall stress levels. Examples that come to mind immediately are:
- Listening/playing music
- Reading a book
- Watching a movie/show
- Playing games
- Spending time with healthy/supportive friends
- Spending time with one’s Self
- Petting a dog/cat
- And many more.
These activities can all be linked to routine self-care. As the month of June continues, I challenge you to do your part by bringing attention to men’s health and engaging in your own routine self-care (if you are not already). If need be, make efforts to reframe your own ideas of self-care. Especially you, men! If you are having difficulty doing so, please do not hesitate to reach out for support. References Addis, M. E., & Mahalik, J. R. (2003). Men, masculinity, and the contexts of help seeking. American psychologist, 58(1), 5. Arias, E., Heron, M. P., & Xu, J. (2017). United States life tables, 2014. Garfield, C. F., Isacco, A., & Rogers, T. E. (2008). A review of men’s health and masculinity. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 2(6), 474-487. Meyer, J. A. (2003). Improving men’s health: Developing a long-term strategy. Webber, D., Guo, Z., & Mann, S. (2013). Self-care in health: we can define it, but should we also measure it. Self-Care, 4(5), 101-106.