More Men Are Talking about Their Health: Here’s How We All Can Take Part
Until recently, the world mainly knew Jeff Bridges from the big screen. Then in October, he launched a website. A stylish portal that corrals things close to his heart, the site unveils a personal and raw layer of the venerable actor. The impetus to launch it was grave: Bridges has lymphoma—and the diagnosis unearthed in him a desire to share. “This cancer thing is bringing on feelings of preciousness, & gratitude, & good old fashion love, & lots of it, big time,” he expresses on his site.
Bridges’s news coincides with an upswell of public conversation around men’s health. Men, in general, face unique circumstances when it comes to their well-being. On average, men in the United States die five years earlier than women, for mainly reasons that are preventable. The suicide rate for males is nearly four times that of females, and it is the second leading cause of death among boys and men aged 10 to 34. Approximately one in every nine men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer.
These are serious issues that we want to be talking about here at The Sunday Paper. Our male readership is growing (we are so thankful!) and with that we want to shed light on these topics. We want to applaud the brave men who have been speaking up about their health journeys. We want to provide a space where we can ask questions. We want to acknowledge the gravity of these statistics and the need for all of us to speak up, to listen, and to fight for the men we love—and ultimately, to know how and where to find the tools to have these informative conversations.
This need for growing discourse underscores the power of Jeff Bridges’s openness. Witnessing more and more men opening up about their mental and physical health gives a sense of permission for others to do the same. Al Roker recently told the world that he has prostate cancer, following his announcement with updates on his surgery. Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps has been forthright about his struggles with anxiety and depression. Many public men who have devastatingly lost their health battles, including Chadwick Boseman and, most recently, Alex Trebek who passed away from pancreatic cancer and was open about his journey, have posthumously prompted an outpouring of awareness of these deadly diseases.
This candor, however hard, is critical, says Mark Hedstrom, US Country Director of Movember, a global organization committed to spreading awareness and supporting research around men’s health. “I think it’s very important for folks who have a platform to talk about these issues, and that they do so in a personal way.”
Opening up in a meaningful way helps to fight the stigma that for too long has surrounded men’s health issues. “A lot of men don’t know how to talk about their health, and that’s rooted in masculinity, this idea of ‘manning up’ and duct tape and dirt, which is the household I grew up in. You’ don’t talk about your issues or cry,” says Hedstrom “So it’s changing quite a bit, and it’s really important to provide that space and provide them with the vocabulary to have a conversation.”
The Movember Foundation has been monumental in creating this space. Founded in 2003 as a fun challenge between friends to grow moustaches in effort to spread awareness about men’s health crises (with a focus on mental, testicular, and prostate health), Movember is now a global enterprise. November is the star month for the foundation. It’s when they raise money and inspire men to grow moustaches. But the platform also offers a critical space for people to visit year-round with its health information and accessible tools.
This highlights another reason for more conversations: Men, women, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people need to know how to have better conversations—ones that are impactful and effective. “If you step back and look at where men are challenged, so often they say, ‘everything’s good; everything’s fine,’” says Hedstrom. “And you don’t want to probe so much and say, ‘really?’ But how do you get through that very monosyllabic response and get deeper?”
Through its various tools like Movember Conversations, which gives people empathetic dialogue ideas for discussing mental health, and True North, a platform that provides men with concrete information around testicular and prostate cancer, we can have markers to help ask better questions and be better listeners—and ultimately to engage in more impactful, meaningful conversations with the men we love. Hedstrom says these tools also aim to give men encouragement to take action for their own health.
For the Movember team, one of the biggest shifts they hope to continue to see is an understanding that when it comes to men’s health, everything is interwoven. As Hedstrom says, “You can’t separate mental from physical health anymore.” How men connect with each other and their communities has an impact on their well-being. (Research shows that social connections can reduce suicide risk, further underscoring the fact that when men talk it has beneficial effects.)
Men’s health is a critical topic that impacts us all. For some of us, life has been punctuated by the loss of a male loved one or by the gravity of a health battle. I write this piece having lost a dear male friend to suicide in June, while another young man I love is fighting a rare sarcoma. These challenges surround us. And with the unfortunate situations that plague our world, including mounting stress and isolation from the pandemic, the health of men is ever more vulnerable. We are keeping this at the forefront of our hearts and minds at The Sunday Paper. And we are applauding the brave men who are sharing to help other men.
The inevitability of life ending is one of the gravest and hardest realities we all face. But it can also be a beautiful connective tissue that bridges us. It can also be a reminder: We cannot negate our mortality, but we can celebrate every heartbeat we have and encourage our men—and all of us—to talk about the ways we can make those heartbeats as strong and healthy as can be. Talking openly and supporting our men is the grandest form of care—and it can make a difference. Just as Jeff Bridges points out on his site: “It’s contagious, all this love.”
We’re in this together. Let’s all keep encouraging men to be open. Let’s all keep listening. Let’s all keep talking.
Supportive Tools for Men’s Health:
- For more information on Movember, and tools to help support men, visit movember.com.
- For prompts for encouraging conversations about men’s health, visit Movember Conversations.
- For mental health and suicide prevention resources, visit The National Suicide Prevention Hotline and Movember’s support resources page.
This essay was featured in the November 15, 2020 edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper publishes News and Views that Rise Above the Noise and Inspires Hearts and Minds. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.