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“It really is amazing to think that the issue of the overall health of boys and men is so neglected, and so poorly understood by the general public, including by boys and men themselves.”
Salvatore Giorgianni, PharmD, Men’s Health Network (MHN)
Men’s health is in need of urgent attention. On average, men live sicker and die younger than women. The more granular the data, the bleaker the picture: nine out of the ten top causes of death occur in men significantly more often than they occur in women; the rate of suicide in men is nearly four times higher than that of women; men are significantly more likely to engage in risky and unhealthy behaviors; and men are half as likely to visit a doctor for annual visits and preventive services.
Yes, men need to go to the doctor more often. But there are other factors at work in the men’s health gap besides stubbornness and pride: gender stereotypes, barriers to care, ineffective marketing, and limited research all contribute to men’s relatively poor health outcomes. Meanwhile, gender-based healthcare, research, and outreach remain almost entirely focused on women’s health. Many have simply come to accept that men die younger than women, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
June is Men’s Health Month, and it’s a time to raise awareness about the state of men’s health in America and across the globe. It’s also a time to advocate for positive changes and celebrate those fighting for them.
To learn more about men’s health, and how it can be improved, read on.
Meet the Expert: Salvatore J. Giorgianni, PharmD
Dr. Salvatore Giorgianni is a senior science advisor and a spokesperson for the Men’s Health Network. He has authored, co-authored, or presented some 200 works in healthcare, industry regulation, and business. As a licensed pharmacist practitioner, he has over 30 years of advanced clinical pharmacy experience in community and institutional practice. He has served on the board of several medical, pharmacist, and voluntary health associations.
Dr. Giorgianni is a recognized expert in men’s health, and a Chair Emeritus of the American Public Health Association’s Men’s Health Caucus, where he has provided leadership in research strategies, communications, outreach, and public policy.
Improving Men’s Health: Focusing on Healthy Masculinity
“It really is amazing to think that the issue of the overall health of boys and men is so neglected, and so poorly understood by the general public, including by boys and men themselves,” says Salvatore Giorgianni, PharmD, a senior science advisor and a spokesperson for the Men’s Health Network (MHN). “I am of the belief, and many of my colleagues at the Men’s Health Network are of the belief, that guys have to take a page out of the women’s health playbook and take responsibility for their own health. And that has to start when they’re really young.”
Women’s health has grown by leaps and bounds over the last 50 years, and society has come to both internalize and externalize a stereotypical relationship between women and healthy choices.
Male stereotypes have been much slower to evolve: stoicism and stubbornness seem to prevail over health consciousness in traditional marketing media. Getting to gender equality in health doesn’t mean that men have to give up on what it means to be masculine, but it does necessitate a shift in focus towards a healthy masculinity.
“Taking care of yourself and being healthy is also an important part of being masculine,” Dr. Giorgianni says.
The Silent Killer: Men’s Behavioral Health
Being healthy extends beyond the physical. Behavioral health is one of the most important, and underserved, aspects of men’s health. Consider that while about twice as many women are diagnosed with depression as men, men still commit suicide four times more often than women. What the data is really saying is that women are more likely to cultivate relationships, talk about their mental health, and seek treatment for it, while men aren’t. This has to change.
“Men’s Health Network has been working very intensively in the past couple of years on the issue of men and behavioral health,” Dr. Giorgianni says. “We’ve done some very in-depth project analyses on behavioral health and the things that drive emotional unwellness in boys and men. A lot of it goes back to societal expectations of men and stoicism. Men, generally speaking, do not grow up with a lexicon that allows or encourages them to talk about emotional wellness.”
Getting more men into the mental health services they need would be a significant step in correcting the disconnect. Keeping them there would be another: men are more likely to lapse in therapy than women. To accomplish both requires an adjustment in perception around what it means to be a man, and how to talk about mental health issues from a male perspective.
“When you look at what’s also going on with Covid, that’s going to, we believe, exacerbate the amount of mental illness we see across all populations, but also affect men very dramatically,” Dr. Giorgianni says. “We’re very concerned about men’s mental health and the perception of men not having mental health issues simply because they don’t talk about it.”
Getting Preventive: The Future of Men’s Health
The trajectory of women’s health over the last 50 years offers a roadmap for the future of men’s health. In the 1970s, the concept of gender-specific healthcare grew out of OB-GYN practice, when gynecologists began functioning as primary care providers for women, and offering health education and preventive services specifically related to women’s health issues. Today, women are nearly three times more likely than men to utilize preventive services, and far more likely to be able to identify their primary care provider.
By comparison, men’s health is stunted, disaggregated, and unfocused: after leaving their pediatrician’s office, males are unlikely to receive gender-specific health services again until their fifties or sixties, when they see a urologist. Even then, today’s urologists don’t provide nearly the same level of comprehensive services to men that gynecologists provide to women.
“One of the dilemmas is that there is not an emphasis in training programs on how to talk to men and deliver healthcare for boys and men in a way that meets their social, cultural, rhetorical, and lifestyle attitudes,” Dr. Giorgianni says. “We did a panel several years ago, where we talked about this overall issue, and found that, amazingly, there were only two questions on the board exam for family physicians that focused on the health of men specifically, and they both related to prostate cancer.”
Further inequality exists within men’s health, too: minority men’s health is in even worse shape than the health of men overall. BIPOC men and boys are less likely to receive the care they need and are more at risk in practically every health category. Part of this is due to a lack of access to services, and part is also due to a lack of equal representation in the medical community.
“One of the things MHN recommends is there needs to be an overall review of the attitudes, training, approaches, and resources in delivering healthcare, to make it more male-friendly,” Dr. Giorgianni says. “When you look at minority men’s health, then you have another issue, which is the sociocultural expectations of minority men for healthcare for themselves and their families. I think there, too, culturally, we fall down on the job in terms of the things that matter to people: advertising, media, and TV programs don’t give the proper message to the generation growing up about what it is to be a health-conscious and health-active male. It’s just not there.”
Progress in men’s health has been slow to start, but it is happening. The 150-year-old American Public Health Association (APHA) formed a Men’s Health Caucus 12 years ago. Men’s Health Month has begun to normalize the topic of men’s health as something worthy of national attention. Funding is beginning to trickle in, and awareness campaigns are gaining traction. There’s still a long road to go, but Dr. Giorgianni and MHN remain hopeful that men’s health can pick itself up and move forward.
“One of the reasons we see the problems in men’s health is that the healthcare system generally speaking is not as male-friendly as it has become female-friendly since the 1970s,” Dr. Giorgianni says. “But you can’t just blame the system. I and many of my colleagues say that the fundamental problem is that men need to take personal responsibility for their own healthcare. They have to advocate for their own healthcare. They have to teach their children about healthcare. They have to do all the things that will make for a healthier next generation of young men. And that, I think, is the essence of masculinity.”
Resources for Men’s Health Month
To learn more about men’s health, and the organizations that are actively working to improve it, check out some of the resources below.
- Men’s Health Network (MHN): MHN is a non-profit that reaches out to men and boys through health awareness and disease prevention messages and tools, screening programs, educational materials, advocacy opportunities, and patient navigation.
- American Public Health Association (APHA): APHA champions the health of all people from all communities. Their Men’s Health Caucus, established in 2010, advocates for the health needs of males and their families, including health awareness and disease prevention, screening, early detection, treatment, advocacy, and public health.
- American Society for Men’s Health (ASMH): Recognizing that men’s health is a multidisciplinary endeavor, ASMH brings together a wide range of medical specialties and health disciplines to promote education and research related to the unique health care needs of males from adolescence to the end of life.
- International Society of Men’s Health (ISMH): ISMH is an active, international, non-profit association focusing on issues concerning gender-specific medicine in general, and men’s health in particular, from a medical, sociological, political, biological, and public health perspective.
Matt is a writer and researcher from Southern California. He’s been living abroad since 2016. Long spells in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Latin America have made the global mindset a core tenet of his perspective. From conceptual art in Los Angeles, to NGO work on the front lines of Eastern Ukraine, to counterculture protests in the Southern Caucasus, Matt’s writing subjects are all over the map, and so is he.