When we think of the term “men”, the connotations are seldom confined to just biological gender. Men (at least the way modern society celebrates them) are strong, virile, decisive and confident. They are masters of their domain, be it at home or the workplace. Yet this broad generalisation belies the fact that men are prone to issues unique to them, not just due to sex but also to social expectations of them.
Male health is a particularly tricky piece of terrain to navigate. Traditionally, men have always been taught to “suck it up” as a way of perpetuating the “tough guy” image. Within that context, any admission of difficulty would be akin to a display of weakness. Unfortunately, such archaic notions still hold sway up till this day.
Regardless of profession, men in general are more prone to chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, stroke and depression. They are also much more likely to respond to such situations by resorting to harmful coping mechanisms such as smoking, alcohol and substance abuse, while eschewing more productive avenues such as therapy, counselling or social support groups.
Hugh Martin, a psychotherapist, coach and founder of men's health organisation Man Enough, says that such isolative behaviours are very specific to the male psyche and that the typical male upbringing “really enables that sense of isolation, or that a man can't bring up an issue they're having.”
Martin goes on to add that when it comes to the workplace, men also tend to overextend themselves when it comes to the hours. “They tend to feel more isolated from home life, not as efficient at multi-tasking... It's hard to sustain,” he says.
The problem is social by nature. Men benefit greatly from the feeling of inclusivity that comes with a support network. When surround by a company of their peers – all of whom face similar issues – men are more likely to voice their concerns and work towards solutions as they no longer suffer under the illusion of external judgement. Once when this network is in place can change then truly take place.
Of course, the way such an initiative is executed also matters. Communication is always key when it comes building and maintaining relationships, and the same holds doubly true when it comes to the workplace. You can't expect something as impersonal as a slew of cutesy-looking motivational posters to do the trick. Kritika Singh of corporate health provider SMG Health emphasises on a distinct need for a tailored approach to addressing the wants and needs of male employees. “It's all about how the message is promoted to the staff. It has to be clear and show why the individual should take care of themselves,” she says.
While the topic of creating a “male-health-friendly” workplace environment is by no means a hot topic these days, the situation faced by men all over the globe is very real indeed. The desire to be in good health is anything but an alien concept, even when it comes to the grittiest and most lion-hearted of men. Just because it's not spoken of aloud, doesn't mean that the problem doesn't exist.