While wars rage, waters pollute, civil unrest abounds, people row about gender and corruption and scandals ever roll on… a lot of important things affecting people’s basic everyday wellbeing get overlooked.
One of those things is: men’s health.
It might seem strange for a female yoga teacher to bring this up and even have the audacity to try to write about it. But actually, that’s part of the point.
A few weeks’ ago it was Men’s Health Week. Most if not nearly every man I know didn’t even know that was a thing, and in turn that got me thinking, well do we need a men’s health week anyway? Because, isn’t that too general? Especially as we live in a time when it’s people’s “individuality” that takes up bandwidth, and it seems that minority needs grab headlines and fundraising.
Rather than going online to check out what this year’s Men’s Health Week looked like, while sitting at my desk one evening I thought to myself – ‘well, I’ll just ask the men I know?’. So, I dropped a text to a male friend: “What health issue concerns you?” and a follow up text, “what do you think would support men in their wellbeing generally?”
Less than two minutes later I got a response. The fact he responded and so quickly in itself told me something. It wasn’t like I was asking an urgent question, or sharing a silly meme that makes you smile at 11pm. This is what he texted back:
Anxiety and mental health.
Having groups to talk to other men openly about health and our worries.
I was moved by the directness of this response, and (probably) the unintentional vulnerability contained in the answer.
While it was late in the evening, I felt like I couldn’t close this box I had opened. So I sent the same question to another male friend, and before I’d even got down the stairs to get my night glass of water, he had responded back…
Bigger social acceptance of talking about these things, a better culture encouraging us to look after ourselves.
This response, being so thoughtful and yet spontaneously shared, struck me: when someone asks us something in a text and if we fire back a response that feels almost complete and urgent, that says something.
I texted my brother. I texted some of my regular yoga students. I texted ex partners. I texted some more friends. All men, UK based, diverse backgrounds, covering ages from 35 to 70 years old.
By mid morning of the next day, my whatsapp had a flurry of notifications. Here’s some more responses:
Having opportunities to have fun and not be weighed down by responsibilities and expectations all the time.
Diabetes and my diet.
Being able to talk to other men in similar situations we find ourselves in, and finding out about serious health issues, having clear guidance on how to improve lifestyle. Men also (not just women) would like to see more on alternatives to the mainstream on how to support ourselves and what medicines to take.
Heart health and blood pressure.
Mental health issues from having too much unrealistic expectations in life (which leads to physical issues). We need to have the courage to tell society to f&ck off.
I have a friend I know via facebook, who lives up north. He sent a long fascinating response back. Here’s some of it:
Knee pain, sometimes hip pain.
Honestly? We [men] are sh&t at being organised. We need more obvious and structured ways we can communicate with health professionals and for services to communicate with us, whether it’s for appointments or checkups or whatever.
By the next day, more responses came through and I really wished I could take a day off to do justice to read them, take it in and appreciate what was being shared. Then I thought… there is gold in these responses. Not just for me as a health professional, but for all of us. So that was the impetus to write this blog post.
One friend, himself a senior health professional wrote:
Musculoskettal wear and tear, weight, coronaries, cholesterol.
Having advice on diet, advice on how to manage stress, and how to reduce workload. So many of us (men) still haven’t work out what is good for us and what we should do more of and less of
This article would be very long– more of a thesis than a blog – if I were to put in all the responses that came through, even if I shared them in edited form. (By the end of the week I had 32 responses). But I think you’ll find it interesting and helpful if I share some more here….
Workshops to assist men in balancing their masculinity with their dormant feminity. As well as educating men on the benefits of better diet, lifestyle,
and daily routines and how these things benefit our health.
Weight, and the impact of social media on my mental health.
I think the cost of living crisis and social media is really impacting how men feel, their health, their mood and life perspective.
My aim in this post, by the way, is not to draw conclusions: every man, just like every human, is unique and their wellbeing relates to their lifestyle, background and circumstances. However, I think we can spot some underlying commonalities here. Especially around the need to have spaces and opportunities for men to have frank, real, honest conversations with each other. Or even just to be heard.
My number one priority is: Mental health.
I would urge men to talk to everyone about everything, especially other men, take a leaf out of women’s books and talk about emotions too, celebrate that as well!
Here are shares from male friends (one who has just turned 60, and another in his 40s) that I know via yoga:
I have been part of a mens group for more than ten years and I have found this experience – to be amongst men, talking deeply about what is going on – to be invaluable.
(You know that something like 70% of suicides are men. My brother killed himself five years ago – these statistics have a real meaning to me).
I really think we need mens groups, to get together where there is an open discussion about sharing in what going on their life. Sometimes it’s easier to share to with people outside of your friends and family. Since covid and the cost of living crisis I think men are becoming isolated. I think men have pressures created uncnescessarily with regards to status etc.. men need to open about their mens health issues from prostate health, change of hormones. Things like meet-ups and creating a community is just as important… most importantly we as men sometimes find it hard to find what is their purpose in life.
I’m still taking it all in. I’m wondering even if I should write up all the responses, in full and offer it up to organisations that support men’s health and wellbeing. What do you think? I welcome ideas.
For now, these are my personal thoughts based on the responses I’ve read:
- powerful, valuable and important insights
- a real sense that men want to get things off their chest, need avenues to say what’s bothering them
- I’m wondering if anyone is asking men these questions, if men feel overlooked? (one male friend responded that he felt the NHS was ‘feminised’ in the way it communicates and offers care)
I work and am steeped in the wellbeing field, as a yoga and meditation teacher. I have long found it strange that the yoga tradition was originally led by men, and that meditation and spiritual teachers in ancient times was dominated by men and yet today it’s women who make up the majority of participants in things like yoga classes. Why is that?
One last personal share…
I never asked my Dad or had conversations with him about his wellbeing, (sadly). True, he was of the generation that didn’t talk about his own wellbeing (forget emotions, not even physical health even when serious). He was the protector archetype. But I think we (ok, by which I mean me, and our family) maybe took that for granted.
When my Dad, in his late 60s then early 70s, got very unwell, the focus was on solution-finding and medical attention. I never thought about his unmet needs until it was too late, and he never got the space, invitation or peer group to explore that in his lifetime. Maybe he wouldn’t have wanted that, being the man he was. Or maybe, after receiving these responses now from my male friends, I assumed too much and did too little.
We shouldn’t take male exteriors for granted.
Thank you, to each one of the men that responded and shared so honestly and directly.
It seems wellbeing really does need connection. For most of us, it is not a solo effort.
-with great thanks to all those of you who responded (I have not changed your responses, some have been shortened), comments welcome at: firstname.lastname@example.org. photo credit Serkan Gönültaş.