Men’s health is in crisis.
Some 75% of premature deaths from heart disease are in males and 40% of men over 45 have low testosterone levels. An astonishing 1 in 5 of your male colleagues will die before they’re old enough to retire. The tragic thing is that 50% of premature male deaths are preventable.
International Men’s Day on 19th November is shedding light on men’s health issues and the disparities between women and men when it comes to healthcare. Men visit the GP 50% less than women, a statistic that really needs to change.
There are various reasons for this reticence to speak to a doctor about health troubles says Helen Lake, Director and clinical lead of men’s health services at Peppy, the personalised health support app: “Attitudes about masculinity mean that the breadwinner doesn’t want to be seen to be taking time off work, hasn’t got time to be ill and has people depending on him”.
Some men take a head-in-the-sand approach to their health, and this is leaving them vulnerable, especially if they don’t have someone in their life who’s nudging them to get health issues checked out. The messaging of health campaigns can also be hard to relate to.
Employers have a vital role to play if we are to change the narrative for men and their health. It’s why Peppy has launched Peppy Men, an app-based service that gives working men personalised, expert health and wellbeing support that really speaks their language.
Here are some ways you can help male colleagues in your workforce.
1. Start the conversation
Nominate a men’s health champion, someone who’s not part of the management team. Their role should be to observe colleagues, notice who’s acting ‘off’ and who’s not returning calls or engaging, and to open the dialogue. Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to say, “I’ve noticed you’re not quite yourself at the moment”, so the employee doesn’t feel judged, but feels there’s an opportunity to talk.
“Create a culture where staff can take time out to talk these things through,” says Helen. “The key is not to make a big deal of it”.
Encourage managers and senior men in your organisation to act as role models, talking more openly about their health journeys – whether formally in a video or article, or just in everyday water cooler conversation. “Particularly if you’re in a big, potentially faceless company, showing that it’s acceptable to take time out of work and to talk about how you’re feeling will trickle down through the business.”
2. Work on your messaging
Research shows that while companies do offer health benefits, employees don’t know they’re there or how to access them. And if messaging doesn’t feel relevant to men, they are less likely to follow it up.
Lee McNamara is Group Head of Internal Communications and Culture at DFS, the first company to partner with Peppy in offering its staff personalised men’s health support.
“The challenge is the way that society’s expectations of being ‘masculine’ often means not asking for help,” says Lee. “Instead of it sometimes being the best thing to do, it’s potentially seen as a sign of weakness.”
Make it easier to talk about personal stuff. “A lot of men’s health falls into the category of urology, involving urinary issues, testicles, erectile dysfunction and so on. It’s very difficult for men to come forward for support with below the belt issues,” says Helen.
But, if they feel like they could do so anonymously, if they had their own dedicated means of accessing information, this could change.
3. Make good health realistic
Advice aimed at a 20-year-old is not going to resonate with your older staff. “There aren’t enough good conversations around things like what the middle-aged man should eat as part of a healthy lifestyle to lose some weight,” says Lee.
Cutting their risk of heart disease and diabetes needs to be presented in an achievable way – not pie in the sky. “We need to move away from the glossy magazine approach to men’s fitness, to being ripped and having a six pack. Most men need something a bit more achievable”.
4. Use the virtual world
Luckily the virtual world provides a good opportunity for men to engage more with their health. Helen explains, “While remote working can be worrying from a health point of view, it creates opportunities to send male staff questionnaires and get them to talk about issues like their sleep and fitness.”
“Big mass campaigns about alcohol and smoking don’t always reach the people that need them, but smaller targeted campaigns like offering a Man MOT tends to work better”.
“The evidence is that men do worry about their health but don’t know how to access help because health campaigns don’t speak to them. Tailor-made content for men, delivered digitally and written in a way they can relate to, is more likely to reach your target,” says Helen.
Similarly, online access to men’s health experts could help men seek out the help they need. Working men are less likely than working women to see their GP, largely because they often work longer hours. Giving them to experts like Helen over chat on their mobile, with no need to leave the house (or desk), makes it easier for them to speak up about a problem or concern.
5. Add a play element
Starting a lunchtime running club, or a company-wide Movember fundraising competition could be a great way to get male staff engaging with their health – because turning it into a fun activity or a challenge somehow makes it more motivating and less off-putting.
And, it doesn’t necessarily have to be explicitly health focused. Creating a fantasy football league, company quiz or social event can be a good way into the health conversation. “You can gradually start introducing activities and initiatives that are health-focused. The first step is to engage the men in your organisation and to normalise the conversation”.
6. Reframe mental health
There’s a real crisis in men’s mental health – today, 12.5% of men in the UK will experience a common mental health problem. Too many men struggle in isolation because they just don’t feel comfortable talking about it, even if help is offered.
“The problem is, the term ‘mental health’ is a turn off,” says Helen. “When men talk about mental health they tend to express it in terms of ‘being stressed’ or ‘feeling overloaded’, so use this terminology. They might exhibit bursts of anger or appear distracted and immersed in work. ‘Depression’ and ‘mental illness’ can be intimidating terms. ‘Being busy’ and ‘feeling burnt out,’ they can relate to.”
Useful sites and references to help support men’s health:
Peppy – www.peppy.health
Resources, videos, events and articles about men’s health on their website, covering topics including testosterone, mental health and Covid-19.
Movember UK – uk.movember.com
For resources including ‘Know thy nuts’, ‘Spot the signs’ and ‘Five things every man should know’, free of charge all year round.
Healthy Male – www.healthymale.org.au/mens-health
An A-Z of what every man should know about his sexual and reproductive health.
Prostate Cancer UK – prostatecanceruk.org
For free information relating to prostate cancer prevention, signs, treatment and management.
About the author:
Marina Gask is a journalist and copywriter who has been writing about health and wellbeing for over 30 years. A former editor of Top Sante magazine and journalism tutor at Goldsmiths University, she has written about everything from mental and sexual health and menopause to workplace wellbeing, resilience and avoiding burnout. In recent years she has focussed more specifically on the subject of finding happiness in midlife and beyond, co-launching Audreyonline.co.uk, the home of midlife reinvention, in 2018. Marina’s copywriting clients include Vitality, Lloyds Pharmacy, Unlocking Language and Peppy and she frequently writes about restarts and second acts for the Telegraph.
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