Embracing a healthy manhood and working to end men’s violence against all women and girls requires men to understand what we’ve been taught about manhood, and how those often, rigid teachings can be repaired and expanded to include open expressions of emotion, the ability to ask for help, and investing in friendship and community. Part of my work with A CALL TO MEN is helping men re-imagine our thoughts and ideas to match what is in our hearts – to unleash the joy, fear, sadness and love that has been caged in our “man box” shaped souls, hidden behind flashes of anger and repressed pain.
Research by the Harvard School of Public Health found that those who suppress their emotions are one-third more likely to die prematurely than people who regularly express what they are feeling. Issues of rage, anxiety, depression and unhealthy coping mechanisms can manifest. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the suicide rate is four times higher in men than in women.
Data supporting the link between physical and mental health is abundant, which tell us that to be our authentic selves, we must consider the vessel which allows us to navigate this journey – our bodies.
For many men, the last time we had a physical exam was in high school or upon entry into the military. Rather than venture into a doctor's office for an exam to consult about an ache or pain, we revert to the programming we received as boys to "suck it up." Or maybe we give it a deadline, like "if it still hurts in a month, then I'll get it checked out." What if this was how we treated our cars? Rather than get that clanking noise in the engine checked, you turn up the stereo to drowned the noise out!
Men have been socialized not to ask for help, not to offer help and not to accept help. Studies show that men who equate seeking assistance with weakness, or the appearance of not being able to handle their own problems, experience more soured relationships with their significant others, higher rates of debilitating illnesses and earlier death.
For men to continue the work A CALL TO MEN invites us to do, we need our heart, mind and body synced like a NASCAR pit crew; different specialized tasks aligned with the same goal to live a full and healthy life. I invite you to consider who you can add to your pit crew for healthy manhood:
· Schedule an annual physical with a primary care physician and GO TO IT! Make time to go see your doctor when you are sick or injured.
· Collect stories about your male family members’ (father, brothers, grandfathers and uncles) health histories. Some men never discuss their illnesses, such as testicular and prostate cancer, erectile dysfunction, and other intimate diagnosis. For future generations, knowing our relatives experienced these illnesses can aide in prevention efforts. In my own family, I discovered one uncle who died from cancer that originated in his prostate. Early medical attention could have improved his outcome. And after a conversation with my father, he shared about his recent experience with kidney stones and an enlarged prostate. These stories help me narrate my family history during my annual physical.
· Ask your barber to join your pit crew. Barbers see areas of your neck and ears that rarely catch any looks. Ask them to keep an eye on any dark spots or moles. If they change shape, contact your primary care physician for a follow-up.
· Make time for an evening with friends. Recent studies have identified maintaining relationships as a preventative measure for mental and physical health. These get togethers can help to reduce stress and maintain bonds that will keep you connected to community to fight off loneliness.
· Read. Exercising your mind will keep it strong, sharp and stimulated. If you discover a family history of memory loss or something more severe, let your primary care physician know and together you can develop a plan.
Not only do our loved ones deserve our best selves, but we men deserve health, happiness and authenticity.
- Jeff Matsushita, A CALL TO MEN Trainer