Tackling Men's Health Stigma
When it comes to men, the concept of ‘health’ is sadly often overlooked or neglected.
Despite the huge effort to break the stigma of men not being able to express and acknowledge health issues, there remains a large proportion of males who feel unable or unwilling to seek support for health issues they may be struggling with. There are several reasons why males develop these attitudes and beliefs towards health, but for the context of this article, we will explore two types of health stigma that males battle with every day, social stigma, and self-stigma.
Starting with social stigma, this refers to the preconceived negative attitudes and beliefs toward and disapproval of an individual or group experiencing health issues. Someone who holds these types of attitudes will often have the perception that someone who admits they are struggling with a health issue, is mentally weak. Unfortunately, these misinterpretations can often lead to avoidance, discrimination, and the rejection of individuals experiencing health issues. On the other hand, self-stigma occurs when someone internalises feelings of shame, embarrassment, and worthlessness about their health issues. This can result in low self-esteem (negative views on oneself) and social withdrawal.
The harsh reality is many males currently suffer from the self-stigma that admitting you have a health issue is a sign of weakness. In these situations, men can often go into ego-protect mode because there are overwhelmed with the fear that people around will think less of them if they know they are dealing with a health issue. In many cases, these preconceived beliefs are often influenced by cultural norms. Masculinity is a set of social norms that involve males expressing and demonstrating toughness, courage, and self-reliance. The downside of traditional masculinity is that it can cause males to remain silent in the context of health issues.
The positive thing is society is slowly trying to break and change men’s health and finding ways to encourage males to seek support for any health issues. It's important to recognise that admitting you have a problem is a sign of strength. It can take a lot of energy, effort, and bravery to reach out for help. If you are a male who feels you might not be able to take the steps to open up about your health, here are a few strategies to assist you in the process.
Find someone you trust
Scan your social support network and identify people with who you can trust and have a positive relationship. Remember and reassure yourself that these people will not judge you for sharing your health issues. Most importantly, they will be able to help you feel better about what you are going through.
Pause your current beliefs
Press the pause button on your beliefs about yourself and reflect on whether your opinions of yourself are fair and justified. By looking introspectively, it may help you develop a more positive and self-compassionate view of yourself. Furthermore, this will allow you to find it easier to express and be open about the state of your health.
Acknowledge it to yourself
If you are not ready to communicate to someone else about your health, consider writing down what you are going through or thinking out loud in a relaxing, private environment. By doing this, you can become more comfortable with terminology and language regarding your health. Once you feel more tolerable about acknowledging your health issues, you may feel ready to seek appropriate support from other people.
Find a role model
Find a role model of positive masculinity. Take inspiration and empowerment from another male who has opened up about their health. The more positive male role models you find, the more confident you will feel in talking about your health issues.
Focus on being yourself, not just a male. Remember that thinking and feeling happy is not necessarily behaving and appearing masculine to other people. Being yourself may involve you breaking the traditional male norms, openly expressing your emotions, and comfortably admitting things you may be struggling with.
What does strength mean to you?
Redefine what strength means to you. Does strength mean always fighting through problems on your own? Or does it mean seeking support when you need it?
Learn to relax
Admitting you are struggling with something is not easy and can require a lot of mental energy. To give yourself the best opportunity to feel willing to communicate to someone about your health, invest regular time in taking part in experiences you find enjoyable and relaxing. The more relaxed you are, the easier you will find to talk about your health.