Around the world, access to health services and support is growing. Yet statistics show that men access these services at rates far less than women. For instance, findings from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that men are 33% less likely to visit their doctor than women.Similarly, a 2021 study of Australian men found that around 44% attending therapy are dropping out prematurely.
This month there will be a timely focus on male health and wellbeing during Men’s Health Week (June 13-19). The week aims to support policies and services that address these kinds of statistics and connect with men’s unique needs and experiences. As initiatives like these continue rolling out crucial change, there’s plenty to do at the ground level to support men in taking charge of their daily well-being.
Here, we’ll be covering three simple, science-backed tips for men’s well-being and health that you can apply today or share with a man you care about.
Plenty has been said about the importance of social connection for well-being and happiness. But with social isolation being one of the leading risk factors for suicide among men, these facts ring especially true for this population.
Men are disproportionately more likely to experience loneliness and social disconnection. Likewise, when falling into a funk (or ‘downward spiral’ of well-being), unhelpful perceptions of masculinity can disincentivise men to reach out to others and speak openly about their struggles.
To reverse this trend, an increased sense of connection is key. That means finding opportunities to feel seen and understood.
You can increase your quality of connection in your life by finding others who enjoy the same things you do. So first, ask yourself: What do you love doing? Then, consider how you might connect with others in your community who enjoy doing the same.
Whether it be card games, fishing, playing a team sport or perfecting your favourite recipe, shared enjoyment prepares fertile ground for connection to grow. So consider creating these opportunities for connection by starting a group at your workplace, signing up for an evening class, or using platforms like Meetup to find others who share your passions.
Building Healthy Habits
Psychological research shows that when we accrue small wins, those wins build up and energize us to make even bigger changes. In this way, we can not only avoid downward spirals of well-being but create ‘upward spirals’ when it comes to health and behaviour change.
By taking things one step at a time, we can do ourselves a huge favour when it comes to improving well-being. Trust that the transformation you’re looking for will come and that small steps will pave the way forward.
A good rule of thumb is that it takes about two months for new habits to be engrained in our memories and become automatic.[xi] So if you’re looking to start a positive habit, pick one small change (like those listed above), and commit to sticking with it for at least this long.
In that time, you’ll begin to be unconsciously drawn to the benefits of this action for your mood and energy. This will help you maintain the habit without consciously needing to remember to do it. Even better is that the gained energy and confidence boost from this small victory will motivate you to pursue even greater changes moving forward.
Unrealistic portrayals of masculinity in media have shaped our beliefs about what it means to be a “real” man. For instance, masculine heroes in television and media are often shown to express little emotion (besides anger) and stifle signs of weakness or hurt.
The consequence is that when men hold themselves to these impossible standards, it can make expressing their needs or seeking help feel like an admission of defeat—or worse yet, a betrayal of their identity.
Of course, reaching out to others for help is nothing to be ashamed of. Humans are a socially interdependent species—we’re hardwired to lean on one another. If you find yourself struggling with physical or mental symptoms, don’t let the fear of being labelled or looked down upon prevent you from seeking help.
Our final tip is to try and put any fears you may have about seeking support into perspective. For instance:
Consider the real-life personalities you admire. How many of their stories involved overcoming adversity? Chances are, they didn’t do it alone.
Doctors, social workers, and therapists have seen it all. It’s unlikely any concern you bring them will be something they haven’t seen before.
Remember that you are not identical to your symptoms, struggles, or illness. Who you really are runs much deeper than all these things.
If you still can’t shake the stigma, consider that seeking professional help is one of the surest paths to recovering from personal struggles.[xiii] Pushing yourself outside your comfort zone today may be the turning point that helps you gain authentic strength tomorrow, so don’t wait.
Big transformation starts with small changes, whether that be in your networks, habits, or mindset. So as you reflect on the meaning of Men’s Health Week, you might ask yourself:
What kind of man do I want to be?
What small step can I take today to become that man tomorrow?
And if you’re not a man, consider reaching out to a man you care about and sharing one of these tips, or simply let him know you’re thinking about him.