Men’s health: Heightening awareness of preventable health problems

Riding for Men’s Health: bikers in Durban rode to encourage men’s health in a society which saw it as a sign of weakness. File Pic

Riding for Men’s Health: bikers in Durban rode to encourage men’s health in a society which saw it as a sign of weakness. File Pic

Published Jun 9, 2024


WITH June set aside as Men's Health Month it is an annual chance for stakeholders to take the chance to bring special awareness to their health issues, and advise and encourage them to seek medical help as soon as possible.

This as studies show that men in South Africa and beyond, are less likely to see a primary health care doctor until they were very sick, despite being known to die at higher rates from, among others, heart disease, cancer, and accidental injuries.

Said the government at the start of the month: “The purpose of Men’s Health Month is to heighten the awareness of preventable health problems, and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys.”

They said the month was specifically earmarked to give health care providers, public policy makers, the media, and individuals, an opportunity to encourage men and boys to seek regular medical advice and early treatment for disease and injury.

“Over the years the response has been overwhelming, with thousands of awareness activities in the globe,” the department said.

Saying encouraging men to constantly be strong and carry an air of strength was “toxic masculinity” and led to The Silent Health Crisis, Medshield Movement said the life expectancy for men had declined sharply over the past few decades.

“In 1920 the life expectancy gender gap between men and women was only one year, with females living longer. By 2017 men had been dying approximately five years sooner than women.

“Men have a higher death rate for most leading causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and more,” the online resource centre said as they explained that men needed to have all-round access to exercise, workout programmes, and meal plans.

The jobs generally assigned to men were high risk, dangerous and led to the decline in their lifespan.

Chipping in on the conversation was men’s health activist Zane Jacobs, who said men generally worked in jobs that were high risk, both to their mental and physical health. “At some jobs, like in mining and construction things can go wrong fast. This - and the need to continue working to provide for families - prevents urgent seeking of health care,” he said.

This was in addition to societal patriarchal standards that, Jacobs said, were long standing. “This brings us to the high suicide rate among men.

“No matter how stressful life at work or home, in society, or in general, was, men will keep it in, and this is a leading cause of depression, mental health degradation, and very often, suicide.”

And as such, mental health was a big factor contributing to men having a shorter life expectancy, said psychologist Aaron Mkhondo, adding it was not confined to class, race or social standing.

He said men being sick - among all communities, was a cause for concern, and had been for many decades. Even with injury they would rather self-treat or stop going to health centres before they are healed. “When you visit a health facility you can count the number of men on one hand where women are the majority, and this is not because they do not get sick, but rather because they do not want to give a piece of their strength over to someone else.

“In fact, sometimes women wait in long queues and for hours, to fetch medication for men, who they will tell you, are too busy to be there themselves.”

Mkhondo put this down as another leading cause of the high rate of gender-based violence and femicide. He said when their masculinity was challenged, men lashed out. “We hear cases of sick men, riddled with cancer or even with limited mobility or problems in the bedroom, being extremely abusive to their partners and children.

“This is because, we have seen, their egos are bruised and they would rather suffer and take it out on those seemingly weaker or feeling sorry for them.

“Mkhondo said a change in society was required and it had to be all year-round. “It has to start when boys are born, encourage them to be open about their feelings and dispel the tigers don’t cry mentality.

“Just like changing tyres of their cars and giving their homes a paint job, men should be made to understand that they can pop into a doctor’s room any time, be it for a physical check-up, mental check, or a simple chat about their emotions.”

This way, he added, the lifespan of men would be prolonged, they would realise they were better valued, and the world would see less anger and aggression on smaller and bigger scales.

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