Take a raincheck on bravery

As we come into Men’s Health Week from 10 – 16 June, it is important we take a few moments to stop and do a quick “how’s my health” checklist. A recent article published by The Conversation said  “men can expect to die approximately five years sooner than women, and men are more likely to die as a result of unintentional injury and suicide relative to women”. The authors state “one possible explanation is that men are more reluctant to go to the doctor and less likely to be honest once they get there”, primarily because men have bought into a cultural script about masculinity that says we need to be tough, strong, brave and self-reliant.

There is a place for men to be brave, strong and self-reliant, but it should not come at the cost of our physical or mental health. According to Beyond Blue, “men are at least three times more likely to die by suicide than women”. Evidence indicates men are far less likely to seek help for mental health conditions than women. The 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing study found that in the previous year, only 27.5 per cent of males with a mental disorder and recent symptoms had accessed services for their mental health problems compared with 40.7 per cent of females. This is concerning given Beyond Blue says the number of men who die by suicide in Australia is nearly three-times the number combined who die in all types of road accidents.

Equally concerning is the number of deaths by suicide in young people in Australia, which is the highest it has been in10 years. The Black Dog Institute reports that in 2017, about 75 per cent of people who died from suicide were males. To help address this issue the onus is on us as men to take the time to role model good physical and mental health behaviour to boys and young men in our communities, which includes checking in on them regularly to make sure they are OK. Granted, this is not always easy when you ask your 16 or 17-year-old son how they are doing and they grunt back with the all-too-familiar eye roll and look straight back down at the screen in their hand. But we must find a way.

One of those ways might be to change the script about what makes a “real man” and spend some time to reach out to the blokes in our world and check that they are doing OK. Not in a weird “sit in a circle, hold hands and sing kind of way”, but in a manner that lets men in your world know that we all have lived experiences of trying to be the best we can be, we all have worries, anxiety and pressure and that while there is a place to unwind with a  beer after work or on the weekend, sometimes we need more than that to keep us healthy and whole.

So, this Men’s Health Week I encourage you to make an appointment with your GP for an annual health check, support a mate to do the same, and reach out to blokes and young men in your local community to make sure they are OK.

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Gary Christensen

Gary Christensen is the Director of CatholicCare Social Services Hunter-Manning. Please visit catholiccare.org.au.

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