It's Movember: Why Men Are Being Left Behind

Shane Trotter

Coach

Strength and Conditioning, Kettlebells, Youth Development

The beautiful month of October brings us brilliant fall foliage and relief from the summer heat, along with the excitement of football season, baseball playoffs, and the start of basketball. Pink ribbons and uniform accents appear in each of these sports in October, signifying the month’s focus on breast cancer awareness. Our communities, however splintered, seem to unite around this cause, and rightly so. I’m glad to see that focus, as it’s a terrible disease that has touched nearly everyone’s life, mine included.

 

As we move to November, however, there is a far less enthusiastic movement toward promoting men’s health. The Movember campaign, which aims to raise awareness of men’s health issues, does not enjoy the same public outpouring of support. To some, it seems a desperate attempt by men to get their own month, after missing the limelight in October.

 

 

But we shouldn’t confuse lack of attention for lack of severity. Despite advances in the overall standard of living and medical care, life expectancy for men remains a full five years shorter than women. The narrative is that this is simply because the world is dangerous and men are more reckless, but the world that men occupy today is far less dangerous than in 1900, when the longevity gap was only two years.

 

Men Are Being Left Behind

The fact is that men simply aren’t keeping pace with women when it comes to health and longevity. Of America’s top ten leading causes of death, men are far more likely to die of all of them except Alzheimer’s disease and strokes, by which men and women are evenly afflicted.

 

Much of this boils down to men just not taking care of themselves. More men than women smoke (24% to 18%), and women are 50% more likely than men to hit the recommended five servings a day of fruits and vegetables. Three times as many men as women have not been to the doctor in the past year.

 

The numbers paint a bleak picture of men’s health. But the question is, why are men so reticent to engage in their own care?

 

Because I work in education, it is plain to me that therein lie the roots of most of our societal problems. Our developmental path is doing a poor job of serving our boys’ intrinsic natures. All kids need recess, P.E., and free play, but especially males, and our schools are systematically rooting them out. We have fostered a system in which typical male behavior has been made synonymous with insubordination and “hyperactivity.” With no outlet for their natural physical needs, they become more unruly, and their education and development suffer in the process.

 

Health education for boys centers mostly around how to not get a girl pregnant, and that’s about it. There is precious little instruction in proper nutrition, fitness, mental health, and the importance of regular professional attention in the form of checkups and health screenings.

 

Increasingly, these same boys also lack strong, male role models, and lean instead on a pop-culture that equates manhood with binge drinking, displays of massive ego, and being rude and generally unintelligent. Crucially, these portrayals include a total disregard for health.

 

The Male Mental Health Crisis

Perhaps the most startling of these issues is the decline in male mental health. While mental health is in decline across the United States, the consequences are more evident in our male population. Three out of four suicides are men. Mass shootings and domestic terror attacks are almost exclusively male territory, but there has been little public discourse as to why that might be the case, even when there is ample scientific evidence to point to the causes.

 

Sebastian Junger contends in his book Tribe that men have evolved to thrive in work with small groups of other men. Most of human history has featured men in these small bands fighting, hunting, and exploring. It appears men need tight knit bonds for good mental health. 

 

It follows that a primary cause of poor mental health in men is loneliness and a lack of deep relationships. According to Dr. Dean Ornish, there is “[no] other factor — not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery — that has a greater impact on our incidence of illness, and [chance of] premature death.”

 

Why Movember Matters

Regardless of your gender or politics, we can all agree that men’s mental health is a deadly serious issue worth addressing, and doing so must start with respecting our nature. We must create environments that promote values-driven communities, that promote physical vitality and nutrition, and which honor what is unique and special in both sexes.

 

In practical terms, the solutions are not simple, and will require a shift in our current culture. Movember’s website advises promoting these five steps:

 

  1. Men need to make time for their male bonds.
  2. Have open conversations. Men must feel they can discuss feelings with other men. Listening can be a life changing gift.
  3. Know your numbers. At 50, its time to talk with your doctor about a prostate cancer check. Earlier for black men and those with a family history.
  4. Know your nuts and check them. 
  5. Move more!

 

There seems to be this idea in society today that men have had it so good for so long that any male issues do not merit discussion. Add to this an environment where boys are given no idea of what “being a man” really means, and you get a pervasive belief that they should act “manly” by not taking care of themselves. Boys are taught that when they struggle, they should stuff those feelings and sprinkle some bourbon on it. This is not a recipe for their future success or happiness.

 

Men’s health and self-care are human issues, not simply male issues. Women suffer when men aren’t healthy and fulfilled, just as men do when women aren’t. We aren’t separate and independent; we’re deeply codependent. Boys and girls both deserve the best environment for their development, in keeping with their natural inclinations. They both deserve to be brought up in a manner that promotes achievement, fulfillment, and good health.

 

When men are physically and mentally unhealthy, all of society suffers. Men, let’s use this month to reexamine our health practices, and get our acts together. Hold each other accountable, have the challenging conversations, and resolve to take care of ourselves. Women, encourage the men in your lives to seek out the social and physical help that they need to be as healthy as they can be. Together, maybe we can improve and extend the lives of the men we know and love.

 

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