Highlighting Men’s Health this November
November has been synonymous with men's health for as long as I can remember.
Every year, I would see the prevalence of Movember and the men around me participate in growing a mo(ustache) to support the cause. Starting in 2003, Movember is a global movement focusing on raising funds to support men's health by providing services, health research, and over 1250 projects surrounding men's health. Their primary focus areas are mental health and suicide prevention, prostate cancer, and testicular cancer.
International Men's Day
Another movement recognized across 80 countries is International Men's Day (IMD), celebrated on November 19. IMD was founded in 1999 by Dr. Jerome Teelucksingh, a university history lecturer from Trinidad and Tobago. This year, the theme for IMD is Zero Male Suicides. Globally, around 452,000 men commit suicide. In Canada, Stats Canada Suicide in Canada: Key Statistics found that suicide rates for men are three times higher compared to women. IMD focuses on six main pillars:
Promote positive male role models
Celebrate men's positive contributions to society
Focus on men's health and wellbeing
Highlight discrimination against men
Improve gender relations and promote gender equality
Create a safe, better world
Getting it from the source
In line with IMD’s third pillar, focus on men's health and wellbeing, I asked some of the men in my life questions about their physical and mental health. Some of the answers are paraphrased.
How often do you think about your health?
Barry: "I would say almost every day. At least in terms of diet, I try to think about frequently what I put in my body. I would say sleep is also something I often think about because it's usually the first thing to go when I'm down, during stretches of life where I don't think about it."
Dallas: "I think about it semi-often, at least once a day or every other day. But there are times when I choose not to think about health, such as for special occasions."
Jacob: "I think about my health all the time. Every day, I think of my health in good or bad ways. When I'm hydrating, eating well and exercising, I feel good about my health, but on the flip side, when I'm not very good at that, I feel bad about my health."
Luke: "I think about my health every day, whether thinking about what I'm eating, how much exercise I'm getting that day or what I will do for self-care. I do not count my calories but try to cook and eat as healthy as possible."
What is your relationship to health, and what does it mean to you?
Barry: "My relationship to health is about sustainability. Everyone would love to be a "health freak" and eat healthy foods and go to the gym all the time. But I feel if it's not sustainable, then it's not exactly healthy. I try to focus on health but don't beat myself up too much if I don't meet the target every day."
Dallas: "My relationship to health is an up-and-down one because I definitely have mental health struggles but not as many physical health struggles. It's been rocky, as I do fight with my mental health but not my physical health."
Jacob: "I feel like my relationship to health is pretty physical - like my physical health, how I look and how people might perceive me when they see me. I think health is feeling comfortable in my skin; a lot is just looking in the mirror and being happy with what I see."
Luke: "In the past, I wasn't happy with my body, which made me have an unhealthy relationship with food. I started to be cautious about my portions and how much I was eating. This past year, I decided to take matters into my own hands and started going to the gym. With my spouse, we decided it would be best to make our meals to know what we consume. I can now say that I am content with my relationship with health."
Are there differences in how you prioritize your mental health and physical health?
Barry: "I'd say I prioritize my physical health more. The less mentally healthy I feel, the more my mind can convince me that caring for my physical health isn't important. Usually, when I'm in those episodes, more often than not, through sleeping, eating well and exercising, that will naturally move me to a better headspace."
Dallas: "I think definitely. There are also differences in how I would prioritize my mental health more, as it can change faster than my physical health, as I am an able-bodied 26-year-old man. Prioritizing my mental health more can be detrimental to my physical health, but because I don't see that result as fast, I tend to forget or not think about it…"
Jacob: "After answering these questions, I think physical health is a priority for me over mental health. I may try to group them, so when I do things to support my physical health that make me feel good, I think it helps with my mental health as well. If I'm having a rough day, I'll go do fitness or exercise, which makes me feel good."
Luke: "Absolutely, I would say how I handle my physical health, with my routine, works for me. When focusing on my mental health, I focus on self-care, whether that is taking a nice hot bath and turning on the R&B and going into my deep relaxation mode or socializing with my friends. I used to struggle with depression when I was in college because I was dealing with a lot surrounding my self-identity and sexuality, which tore me down completely, and I was very alone. Mental health is essential, and I always want to be there for my people who are going through things that are making them feel down."
The first act of violence patriarchy demands of boys and men is not violence toward women—it’s toward themselves.
This can be in the form of self-neglect, rejection of ‘feminine’ traits of self-care, all rooted in the fear of being cast aside or having their ‘male’ status revoked. Health, whether physical or mental, is not a trivial topic. There is a lot of value in hearing men's stories about their health and simply asking them about it.
The men I interviewed agreed they weren't often asked these questions but appreciated the opportunity to reflect on their lives.
This November, let's hold space for the men in our community, too. Let’s normalize talking about things that cut deeper. Ask questions from the IMD pillars, but most importantly, be someone who listens.