June 14 to 20 2021 is Men’s Health Week in Aotearoa. Being a business that was founded by three mates back in 2008, this is a topic that is near and dear to our hearts. In New Zealand alone, 1 in 8 men will suffer from depression in their lifetime, have a lower life expectancy than women and are 3x less likely to visit the doctor. We caught up with Rob Woodward and Mike McKay, two of our founding directors, to chat about Men’s Health and what it means to them, and how they believe we can shift the discussions about health in the workplace.
What does “Men’s Health” mean to you?
R: Men’s Health is quite a distinct grouping in that as a gender, we are not the best at recognising that we do need professional advice in being well. I think it is quite specific to our gender, and not broad, and it has a real meaning to me. Women are statistically and historically, so much better at discussing their health and their concerns and as a result they tend to live longer in life, for a myriad of reasons.
M: Men’s Health means being aware of health in general and being able to share with loved ones and friends the steps to being aware of health, but also being okay to share and seek help or provide help with those around you.
Why do you believe Men’s Health is so important?
R: As a gender, we’re clearly not particularly good at self-care, self-diagnosis, sharing of thoughts, or having a level of vulnerability. It’s 2021, and yet there is still an overwhelming sense of machoism or “she’ll be right” that pervades into this area. Men’s Health is so important because it’s about preserving a generation of men, and about preserving those close to them. Too many good men are lost every year to issues surrounding their health and the impact of this extends to their whanau, their friends and often to other men around them. It’s important that we have these discussions so that we don’t see this issue continuing, and so current and future generations of men can feel comfortable discussing their health.
M: Men can live up to old stereotypes of being the strong/silent types or not asking for help – removing this can help identify issues early and lead to healthier outcomes. As a society, we need to challenge these stereotypes wherever they crop up, and movements such as Men’s Health Week or Pink Shirt Day, are great and constant reminders to do this.
What do you believe could be done better to facilitate Men getting more active with their health?
R: I think that it’s like the influencers in social media. Men have to do it for themselves. I don’t believe that spouses, children or relatives are the portal to talk to men. Men need to communicate to each other and there needs to be a greater awareness at the public-level. Conversations such as “I have had my prostate checked” need to be normalised. Men need to own this and need to be more open to it.
M: More role models, and removing stigma about Men’s Health. Showing community pathways to healthier lifestyles and highlighting the stories of how Men’s Health has impacted their lives. Men can stick to those stereotypes, or can be forced into them by society and so in showing the impact and growing awareness of these stories, we can help take more men on the journey.
You’re both quite open about your health journeys. Have you found that this has made dealing with health issues easier?
R: Yes, undoubtedly. My wife had a chronic illness for 25 years. Very early on she used a lot of her energy to pretend she wasn’t sick, and that energy was much better spent fighting the illness. Once she acknowledged the truth and started the conversations around her illness, she was able to better fight it. I’ve learnt from this that you have to live your truth and that acknowledging the facts is better than trying to pretend they don’t exist.
M: Absolutely. Sharing means you’re not alone and support channels open up quickly and the opportunity to provide support as well. If you hide away it helps no one, least of all yourself.
When was the last time you did a self-assessment, or discussed your health with a doctor?
R: I was released by the post-Melanoma care unit on the 28th April after three years of palliative care and I’m scheduled to have my annual full check with my GP in late August (I have this done every 6 months).
M: With a family history of prostate cancer I have yearly check-ups with my doctor, and I monitor my health monthly with a basic head to toe check.
What do you think Businesses could do, to better facilitate male employees looking after their health?
R: This is a tricky one, as obviously people do have a right to their privacy, however I believe that businesses can facilitate a culture that supports time off for melanoma checks, or flu jab etc., without imposing the need to “make up the time” – we here at FIND hope to lead with this in terms of our EAP, Wellness Days and Southern Cross partnership alongside flexibility so individuals CAN get these essential checks. We commit our business to serve our people, so that they can live their best lives, otherwise what is the point? I believe that businesses should aim to partner with their people, rather than forcing them into these conversations, as obviously, their privacy is paramount here.
M: I think there are loads of things businesses could do to help. Such as, providing access to annual health check-ups or running support groups that target men only if the men in the business are uncomfortable talking in front of others. Also, providing access to medical services to offer basic ‘head to toe’ self-checks and who to contact if you think something is wrong.
Find out more about Men’s Health week here: https://www.menshealthweek.co.nz