As June comes to an end, it marks the highlight of an important cause: Men’s Health Month.
As this year’s Men’s Health Month finds itself in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, health – especially general wellness – has been a topic found in every household. According to a morbidity report from the CDC, men were hospitalized more often than women, and more severe outcomes were more commonly reported among men than women.
Men’s Health Month, Men’s Health Week and awareness started in the early 1990s, Dr. Sal Giorgianni, a spokesperson and senior science adviser at the Men's Health Network, said.
“(The Men’s Health Network) was started up as a nonprofit with a specific mission to enhance the health of boys, men and their families,” Dr. Giorgianni said. “We also do advocacy and education work. Here now, we’re also starting to do other types of outreach. We have affiliations in over 20 states and 900 policy board members.”
Men’s Health Awareness started because data shows gender disparities between men and women in many different areas – from mortality to suicide rates. According to menshealthnetwork.org’s 2017 data on life expectancy at birth, on average, women live five more years than men and two-and-a-half years of the national average.
The cause of these disparities has a deep-rooted, multifaceted history, from toxic masculinity to cultural stereotypes, Dr. Giorgianni said.
“We've begun because back in the 1920s ... the rates became dramatically different,” Dr. Giorgianni said. “Men have a higher rate than women in 9/10 in most things (that) are preventable.”
In the 1970s, with the rise of second-wave feminism and the reproductive rights movement, women’s health was established to address disparities and to support the health of women and girls, Dr. Giorgianni said. An example is the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, established a women’s health research office – but never a men’s.
“To this day, there's no men’s health specialists,” Dr. Giorgianni said. “When you take young boys who leave the pediatric office, there is nobody to see them. The only is urologists – and that is between ages 15 to fifty-something — and you usually don't need to see a urologist in men's health.”
Women-specific services, such as gynecology, have been very successful for women, Dr. Giorgianni said. But for a long time, the biggest problem was that women’s health was focused only on the area “between the legs and the belt.” This is the problem that men’s health faces today: men’s health is equated to sexual health and not comprehensive healthcare issues for boys and men.
For Marty Munson, health director at MensHealth.com, cancer is one such major issue men’s health should raise awareness about.
“Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death for men,” Munson said in an email. “While people don’t always like to talk about their guts, they Google it a lot, and as long as they click on reliable information from credible sources (including MensHealth.com, of course!), that’s a good thing.”
Heart disease is another leading cause of death for men, Munson said. It is also preventable.
“Heart disease in men gets quite a bit of attention, but maybe not quite enough, as it’s still the leading cause of death,” Munson said in an email.
Men’s health goes beyond physical health, too, Munson said in an email. Mental health issues in men are something that’s not often discussed.
“Mental wellness is a huge issue – it’s not just about preventing suicide or managing depression; mental wellness is about learning how to manage anxiety and all the issues that life throws at you. It’s unlikely that you’ll make them go away, so it’s worth developing some tools for managing them,” Munson said in an email.
Men are often reluctant to seek care related to mental health because of the stigma, Dr. Jane Balbo, family physician and co-medical director for OhioHealth Campus Care at Ohio University, said in an email.
Luckily, many mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety are very treatable, Dr. Balbo said in an email.
“People of all genders should talk to their doctors if they are experiencing an increase in sadness, hopelessness, feeling down and depressed or a loss of interest or pleasure in things they used to enjoy,” Dr. Balbo said in an email.
But there is a disparity in those who make hospital visits. Women are about twice as likely as men to seek preventive care in general, Dr. Giorgianni said. Dr. Giorgianni thinks that the best way for men to stay on top of their health is to take a page out of the women’s health care playbook.
“(Men) have to take responsibility for their own health,” Dr. Giorgianni said. “(Culturally), health is a woman's responsibility – you see it in (mass media) ... Men’s Health Network is modeled that way – in ads, men are more involved in health and wellness in families.”
For both Dr. Giorgianni and Munson, the best way men and allies can raise awareness about men’s health — and make it a comfortable issue — is to have conversations about it. Be encouraging, not badgering, Dr. Giorgianni said.
“Women in the lives of men — significant others, friends, daughters, nieces — they know the guys in their lives,” Dr. Giorgianni said. “If guys knew how important to the women who are signing to them how their health matters, they would go. One of the things that happens unfortunately you have to do it in a way that is acceptable ... If women looked at it as an important role to help guys taking care of themselves, that would go a long way. Guys will do anything for love.”