This month is all about encouraging the men and boys in your life (including you, men out there!) to take care of their bodies by eating right, exercising, and working to prevent disease.
The official symbol for the month is a blue ribbon and the purpose of Men’s Health Month is to heighten the awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of diseases including TB, HIV/AIDS, cancer, heart disease, diabetes and depression.
At THINK, we take Men’s Health Month very seriously, hence why we’ve started a series called #CheckYourselfBeforeYouWreckYourself and we will be sharing interviews and perspective from THINKers and also health experts.
Our first interview is with Trevor Mvundura, THINK’s Executive Director, Deputy CEO and CFO.
Q: In your own words Trevor, what is Men’s Health?
Trevor: I’d like to firstly stress that I’m not a health expert but I’d say; Men’s Health, refers both to the physical and mental health problems that are of concern for men and to health differentials among men. Moreover, when one speaks of ‘men’s health’ one also calls attention to differences in the health and health care needs of boys and men as compared to girls and women. These differences extend far beyond the obvious differences in the reproductive systems. Men in most developed countries suffer more severe chronic conditions than women. From a biological perspective, these gender differences can be attributed to anatomical and physiological differences between men and women. Health behaviours are important factors influencing health and longevity, and men are more likely than women to engage in behaviour that increase the risk of disease and death. Men’s Health also looks into mental health, which is something that is really important in the day and age we live in and also addressing the stigma around men’s health.
Q: What do you think is the reason why we have a problem with stigma around Men’s Health, more particularly Men’s Mental Health?
Trevor: I think part of it may be this macho thing – many guys don’t want to admit they have this problem. They still see depression as a sign of weakness. We know so much more now, and we recognize the chemical changes that take place. In many ways, mental illness is just like diabetes, or any other physical condition. There is work for us to do as a society regarding the stigma of asking for help. While we have done a much better job of reducing stigma and expanding opportunities for support, men still may be experiencing shame and guilt that could lead to them being less willing to ask for help.
Q: To follow up on the previous question, and also to touch on your answer; how do we reduce this stigma around seeking health services as men?
Trevor: A lot of men fall prey to the false idea that they should be “tough enough” to fix all their problems on their own. They worry that by showing vulnerability, even in the case of physical illness, they may lose their authority with others. They may believe they can fix this problem quickly and move on to the next; and they may be in denial that there is a problem at all. Addressing that, and helping men work past it, requires first ending the stigma of asking for help. We can all foster more transparency around health, mental health and substance abuse issues, and it’s something at THINK, we are trying to incorporate with our culture and messaging. No one is immune to stress. Talking with others about how it is affecting you can foster empathy and support; all of which fight against the feelings of isolation on which addiction and mental health issues can thrive. We need people to realize that these are medical problems, that there are good treatments available, and that there is hope involved.
Q: In the past 2- 3 years, there has been a lot of conversation around the burden of toxic masculinity, especially in social media, what are your views on this?
Trevor: When you’re talking about toxic masculinity, it really comes down to the way males are brought up. The way we’re taught to be strong and quiet. If you look at the tough guys on movies, that was the model we were supposed to aspire to. But it’s also a model that is dysfunctional in many ways. This model of masculinity may be why men are more likely to underreport symptoms of depression and also seek health support as a whole. But certain, more traditionally masculine traits can also contribute to increased rates of depression. If men are less willing to ask for help, they will continue to experience the symptoms contributing to depression. when people struggling with depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions aren’t embracing healthy coping resources, they may turn to alcohol and other drugs as a way to numb the pain. The problem is, how do we as a society change men’s perception of seeking help before they get to that point?
Q: Personally, when do you feel is the right time to ask for help?
Trevor: I would like to emphasise that I am not a health expert and would advise people to seek help from health experts but personally I would say: Look for these signs that indicate a need for outside assistance: change in mood, difference in work performance, weight changes, sadness, hopelessness, or anhedonia (a loss of pleasure and avoiding things that used to provide enjoyment), physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach issues.
Q: As someone who is in a management position, I’m sure it is even harder to speak about your health and mental health, because as you’ve stated in your previous answers; it’s not seen as a macho thing to do, who are your go to people?
Trevor: It’s true, it’s very difficult to speak about my mental health in my position but I have a very strong and amazing supportive system in my life, including my wife. I can also speak to Kristina, Kirsty and also my mentors. And fortunately, I also do a lot of activities to help with my health and mental health, from playing Rugby, to hiking and also give myself time to reflect.
Q: What are your last words about Men’s Health?
Trevor: There is hope. Help is available. Educate yourself about your health issues and your loved one’s. Participate in peer or family support groups for coping with health issues and mental health issues. And more importantly always know; YOU ARE NOT ALONE.