Today marks the close of Men's Health Month. What comes to mind when discussing men’s health? Typically one of the first responses will deal in some way with sexual function. Low T, anyone? Or maybe it’s obesity, as work becomes more sedentary, involving more mental and emotional creative energy than our fathers and grandfathers. Everybody knows that heart attack is the number one killer of men, especially in our prime years and with little or no warning.
The primary issue I believe underlying most health problems for men is APATHY. Apathy is an issue both for individual men when it comes to their own health, and for society in how we structure care and expectations.
This is an obvious generalization with many individual exceptions, but, by and large, men seek preventive health care far less frequently than women. Men are often brought to the doctor by their wives or significant other more frequently than the opposite. In general, men tend to ignore advice or delay action more than women. (That includes asking for directions. I’m guilty of that, for sure!)
Men are more likely to abuse alcohol, tobacco and drugs. We take more risks with driving, sexual behavior and sport. In spite of increasing numbers of women in the military, men still assume the risk of battle in far greater numbers and are the vast majority of our wounded warriors. That will be the case as long as our adversaries do the same.
To compound the issue, men are considered fair game when it comes to “bullying” in popular culture and entertainment stereotypes as the incompetent fool. The wisdom of Ward Cleaver, “Father Knows Best” and the heroics of Superman have been replaced by Homer Simpson. Funny guy, but inspiring only in the sense of a negative role model.
I’m not suggesting a rise of male narcissism. But maybe the first step to getting healthier is thinking we are worth it. If we don’t care for ourselves, we are saying it is OK to become a burden, to become sick and part of the problem rather than pursuing health, preventing sickness, solving our problems and staying healthy and productive.
So start by caring, first for yourself so you can care for others. If you don’t know how, I’m sure there is someone you know that can guide you. He or she may not seem like your friend if they tell you to shape up or get a checkup, but they are showing more love than anyone who spares your feelings by reinforcing an unhealthy status quo.
Sacrificing one’s health while thinking we are going to be a long term benefit to others is not wise or even unselfish. We are of less value to our loved ones and community in a coffin or hospital bed. When the airline cabin pressure drops, we are instructed to place the oxygen mask on ourselves, then to assist others. It’s not selfish; it saves more lives.
Let motivation replace apathy. Care for yourself so you can care for others.