Written by: Adam Ameele, PsyD, Director of Behavioral Health
To discuss Men’s Health during the Month of June, it is necessary to focus on the role of emotional well-being. Call it what you want: mental health, behavioral health, psychology, feelings, stress, etc., but given the current COVID-19 Pandemic, it is time to discuss the importance of men’s health, and in particular, men’s management of stress.
The world as a whole is experiencing the devastating effects of a virus that is impacting the health of men in greater proportion to women. There is a well-established connection between physical health and mental health, but unfortunately and historically, this connection has been minimally acknowledged for men. Males have been influenced to minimize any attention on mental health and to “cowboy up” or “walk it off” in regards to both physical and mental health pain. Men have been largely conditioned to avoid acknowledging it, let alone talk about it with someone, whether that be a loved one or a professional.
Fortunately and unfortunately, the human body is remarkably adaptive, and as a result, elevated stress surfaces to express itself as health conditions and maladaptive behaviors. Heart disease and obesity are just two of many health conditions that highly correlate with elevated and unmanaged stress. As humans work to adapt to sustained elevated stress, they naturally seek out means to regulate and reduce this stress in varying behaviors. Many of these behaviors are often helpful in the moment and fulfill additional human needs like social connection and self-esteem, though they hinder our long-term well-being. A prime example is the use of food and other toxins to manage elevated stress. For males, unhealthy foods and substances such as alcohol and tobacco are considered culturally acceptable means for dealing with emotional stress. This approach combined in the presence of friends reduces stress in the moment, but only hinders our health long term, while not necessarily addressing the elephant in the room.
During Men’s Health Month, I challenge my male peers to increase their awareness of how they are managing during this time of elevated stress. This, in and of itself, may be the toughest challenge as we have been conditioned to minimize anything that could make us vulnerable or weak in the moment. However, we know that even denying the experience of elevated stress (physiological or cognitive) makes us more vulnerable to chronic diseases in the long-term. Secondly, I encourage my male peers to increase their awareness without judgement of the adaptive and maladaptive ways in which they are managing their stress, and upon doing so, work to increase the healthy and adaptive stress management skills being used. Lastly, and most importantly, I challenge my male peers to talk to a peer and/or a professional as they recognize when their stress management means are impairing their health and ability to function at work, home and in relationships. As we connect with peers and professionals, we will get stronger and our health will improve. Relatedly, as you experience any hesitation to reach out, I challenge you to tell yourself, “Your health matters and it is necessary to seek out support!”
Men, we have come a long way in reducing stigma about asking for help, but we cannot stop now. Our well-being depends on it!