When it comes to men’s’ health issues, the sexes are equally apathetic.  A radical feminist joke goes like this, “Why do men die earlier than women?  Because they deserve it!”  Some of you reading this might be quietly say, “Yah, I agree!”  As odd as it may seem I too have had antagonism towards other males.  In my case I was neglected and verbally abused as a child.  My father also as a child he was neglected and physically abused.  In many similar cases the legacy of abuse continues.  The cycle just keeps going on and on.

A friend of mine who is a psychologist once told me that when you think of all the abuse, pain, tyranny, and violence in the world it is all because of men and their testosterone.  He said this, of course, out of his own pain which related to the abuse his father bestowed on him as a child.

Before I go any further it’s important for me to say that men aren’t any more evil than women or for that matter any more holy than women.  I believe that abuse is the culprit.  It skews our perception of people, things, and even our very own existence!

There are a great number of very good men.  In my life I have had, at times, surrogate fathers and mentors.  I’ve had some very loyal and good male friends throughout my life.  Often times I will ask clients why they chose to come and see me rather than a female counsellor or therapist.  On some occasions I have been told, “It’s because I wanted to know that there are good godly men out there, so that I can heal and be able to believe that not all men are abusive.”

Men suffer more and die earlier than women!  An ignorant or bitter person might say, “They caused it anyway and don’t deserve any compassion!”  This is tragic.  Men die about 7 years earlier than women on average.[1] The suicide rate for men is 4 times higher than in women.[2] A man is pressured to be a superman by society, themselves, responsibility, the need for recognition, other men, women, and other factors.  Men, in general, tend to be winning competitors as Steve Wells so eloquently puts it, “…they come out ahead in a huge number of areas (they love winning competitions!), such as cancer, heart disease, respiratory diseases, accidents generally, and motor vehicle accidents specifically, diabetes, and the list goes on.”[3]

Men don’t even seem to care about themselves.  Some of my friends who pastor churches have told me through the years that 70% of all the volunteers, givers and purchasers of spiritual help materials in churches are women and only about 30% of those are men.

All too often we men don’t take care of ourselves and sometimes even of others.  Why?  I believe that one major factor is that no one properly ever cared for us!  We as men need to be proactive in taking responsibility for the care of ourselves and that doesn’t mean going to a bar for a beer!

Generally speaking women will go for psychotherapy, naturopathy, exercise, yoga, church, massages, manicures and pedicures and probably a whole lot more!  What will guys do?  Not much…because much of what I just mentioned is perceived as feminine [especially the pedicure part (LOL)]!  When I ask men in my office about when they last went to the doctor for a physical check up, often they don’t remember or never have gone.

In the book Vital Touch, Heller says that infant boys get less physical touch than girls.[4] Infant boys in some ways need as much or more touch from parents as an infant than girls for one major reason and that is that boys already are born with a greater physical inability to be sensitive to physical touch.  Physical touch in infancy and childhood promote the following: healthy attachment, better communication, psychological health, physical and mental growth, assures smooth physiological functions in breathing, heart rate and digestion, supports a healthy self-concept, body awareness and sexual identity, as well as enhances their immune system, and externally it even enhances their ability to be graceful and stable in their movements.  Healthy physical touch determines the outcome of the child and how they will function throughout their lifetime.

Boys are at a disadvantage in our culture, before they are even nurtured and developed they are expected to be the provider, the protector, the nurturer and by the way don’t forget about superman.  We should stop and think or should I say rethink what society says we ought to be.  I have often had couples come in for marriage counselling and the woman has complained about how their husband is so insensitive.  I usually make a comment somewhere in there that we men were taught to be like John Wayne or the Marlboro man – why?  Because, these are images of strength images of courage!  But what about the images of the nurturing father, the shepherd of the sheep, the mentor?

But before that can happen we men need to rethink who we are or should I say, should be.

All too often men don’t do anything about taking care of their health until it’s almost or is too late…after their entrails are dragging on the ground they may go to their physician and ask if they have a problem.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics Mortality Atlas Australia (December 2002) shows that the death rate from the main causes of death is generally higher for men than women. The average death rate per 100,000 persons (1997-2000) includes:

Malignant (cancerous) tumours – 237.8 males compared to 146.7 females

Ischaemic heart disease – 190 males compared to 119.9 females

Cerebrovascular diseases (strokes etc) – 65.9 males compared to 65.8 females

Chronic lower respiratory diseases (lung problems)- 46.6 males compared to 23.2 females

Accidents – 35.6 males compared to 17.7 females

Suicide – 21.9 males compared to 5.5 females

Diabetes mellitus – 18.8 males compared to 13.6 females

Influenza and pneumonia – 13.6 males compared to 11.4 females

Motor vehicle traffic accidents – 13.1 males compared to 5.5 females.[5]

This problem is not an Australian one it is a worldwide problem.  The International Society of Men’s Health (ISMH) is one of the very few organizations that are attempting to address this issue.  The theme of the Men’s Health World Congress in 2009 was, Men suffer more and die sooner. In the following words of their March 2010 journal they point out this pervasive problem particularly in the western world:

The course of many physiological and psychological diseases is more severe in the male gender. The gender differential is unfavorable to men in their experience of stress, as it is more likely to manifest in men as debilitating physical, mental, and behavioral conditions than in women. Furthermore, relatively greater exposure to violence and injury and elevated behavioral risk increase the frequency of debilitation and premature death among men.[6]

Many generations ago it used to be that men would live longer than women now we know it’s the other way around.  Why?  I have already addressed some of this but here are some thoughts attempting to answer this question:  The lack of healthy physical touch for boys in infancy, the neglect and abuse as a child prior to the age of 12, the modeling and teaching in our homes, schools, and of our society that men are supposed to be indestructible and able to solve all problems on their own, and how about,  ‘boys and men are not supposed to cry, need help, or show any weakness!’  I’ve even heard women tell their husbands that when a man cries it disgusts them.  Men are already wired for less emotional sensitivity but society promotes that even further and shames men who may show emotional sensitivity.

For the most part I believe the biggest problem is that men in our society are taught as infants to be emotionally calloused and detached.  The more emotions that are repressed the higher probability of the onset of serious illness resulting in early death.  The only emotion that appears to be socially acceptable in men is anger, this is often the only emotion men are aware of within themselves and guilt often the least.  The deception of anger is that it appears to be a primary emotion, but really anger is a result of the hidden primary emotions such as shame, guilt, fear, and sadness (resulting from hurt).  To properly heal from our deep inner pain we first need to connect ourselves to our right brain – our emotional self.  Spiritual, emotional and physical violation (sin) causes pain; this involves neglect, ignorance, and abuse.  Without self-awareness of our primary emotions we cannot begin to heal.  When enlightenment and understanding come, then pain may follow, the pain of our own condition, but this is can be a good thing.  When we take responsibility, which gives us the ability to respond, we then have hope.  With qualified help we can move towards our healing towards our own salvation.

As I have helped men get in touch with their own inner condition and helped them in their journey towards wholeness I begin to hear and see their remorse, their transformation, and then compassion surfaces.  Stephen R. Covey says, “People are very tender, very sensitive inside. I don’t believe age or experience makes much difference. Inside, even within the most toughened and calloused exteriors, are the tender feelings and emotions of the heart.”

We men don’t have to fit the mold that was past down to us, we don’t have to known as calloused and uncaring; we don’t even have to die earlier or suffer more.  Since going for help myself I have come to the revelation that I am not meant to solve all my problems or support myself alone, I am supposed to seek out qualified help; for my spirit I have a pastor, for my mind/emotions I have a therapist, for my physical wellbeing I have a physician, and a naturopathic practitioner.

There is hope for us!  All it takes is courage and willingness to ask for assistance from a qualified person.  Invest in yourself today, you are worth it!

[1] Source: Why Men Die Early Than Womenhttp://www.thehealthnews.org/news/08/06/15/men.early.die.html, THE HEALTH NEWS, 2008.

[2] Source: Why Men Die Earlier And Suffer More, http://www.eftdownunder.com/blog/?p=19, Energy Provocateur, 2009.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Source: Heller, Sharon, Ph.D., The Vital Touch, (Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1997).

[5] Men’s Health, http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Men’s_health, State of Victoria, 2008.

[6] Meryn, Siegfried, M.D., Young, April M.W., Ph.D. “Making the global case for Men’s Health”.  http://download.journals.elsevierhealth.com/pdfs/journals/1875-6867/PIIS1875686710000035.pdf, (Journal of Men’s Health, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 2–4, March 2010).