My favorite actor was the late Robin Williams. I loved his off the cuff remarks,
spontaneous sense of humor and powerful sense of presence so eloquently expressed in movies from Dead Poets Society to Mrs Doubtfire. May he Rest in Peace. Yet it’s my own childhood memories of his brilliant breakthrough TV series Mork and Mindy that I loved most.
November has become synonymous with ‘Movember’, an annual reminder of how priceless health really is – in this case men’s health issues. It got me imagining just how Mork might have explained the difference between the health of men and women down ‘here’ on planet Earth while speaking to his space friends from Orsen.
Consulting a basic biology book might highlight the obvious differences. That men have this Y chromosome which determines male sexual characteristics, the surge in testosterone levels during puberty and outward manifestations of maleness (Adams apple, hair growth, and eventual hair loss etc).
Mork might have suggested – correctly – that all of that male testosterone can increase risk taking behaviours from binge drinking to speeding on our roads, accidents and gratuitous violence. Perhaps he would also have suggested that men as the traditional hunter- gatherers in society grew up to believe they are bullet proof and invincible when it comes to their health.
As a medical doctor, I deal with this real fallout from mens health issues (psychological, emotional and physical) every day of my professional life.
Statistics reveal that men typically spend many years of their lives suffering from a chronic health condition with the ‘longevity gap’ meaning men are more likely to die about five years earlier than their female counterparts.
Maybe Mork would have simply shrugged his shoulders and said ‘ Sure Men, they’re from Mars; Women are from Venus.’
At a fundamental level men often have difficulty expressing themselves. It’s not that we don’t experience emotion, more that we can find it hard to put words on how we feel. So we put on our emotional straitjacket, bottle up our feelings and soldier on regardless.
This form of emotional poverty has very negative health consequences including unhealthy communication, toxic distress, and potential over dependence on alcohol or other drugs.
Perhaps this emotional poverty results from belief systems and behaviour patterns learned in large part from our parents, peer groups, even our role models. These ways of ‘how we deal with stuff’ can be passed down the line from generation to generation just like a baton in a relay race. Simply put – monkey see, monkey do!
Because of mirror neurons in the brain (which thousands of years ago kept us safe in a world full of danger and threat), we tend to adopt the habits, attitudes and mannerisms of those people we spend most time with right throughout our lives. The power of our social networks has shown how we really do become our associations.
The traditional macho male image of ‘bullet proof’ invincibility does us no favours at all – often resulting in the ‘head in the sand’ attitude of ignoring symptoms. The usual suspect of simply ‘being too busy’ is often wheeled out an an excuse to avoid action. On many occasions I’ve met men who bleed from the back passage for many months before seeking medical attention, a time gap that can literally be the difference between life and death.
Growing a moustache this Movember looks to ‘change the face of men’s health’ by building ‘Health IQ’, a term I use to describe awareness, attitude and action. Awareness of any change in how your body normally functions, your personal and family medical history, and appropriate tests. Attitudes reveal your beliefs and underlying values about health while action underpins the choices and decisions you make each and every day of your life.
Everything is connected. How you think, feel and behave are all interlinked and add up to inform the person you become. Your psychological fitness, emotional vitality, and quality of your relationships all impact your physical health and wellbeing. A healthier lifestyle really can make a big difference.
This Movember I’m asking you to not only think and talk about mens health but to take action. Be the change through your own words and actions.
Be more present, give a friend the gift of your time to really listen. Be an advocate. Encourage someone that matters to you – a family member, work colleague or friend – to take that first step and see their physician or therapist.
More importantly be an example to others, move from talking the talk to walking the walk. Actions speak louder than words. We are all better together. Your health is the greatest gift of all.
I’m reminded of Robin Williams in the Dead Poets Society:
‘Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.’
Dr. Mark Rowe is an experienced Family Physician, Author & Lifestyle Medicine Expert. His medical practice is based at Waterford Health Park in Ireland. He is author of ‘The Mens Health Book – A Guide For the Irish Man’.
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