June was Men’s Health Month, a month designated for encouraging men and boys to take charge of their health. But any month is an opportune time to look at the status of health for Black men. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Black men have the lowest life expectancy of any demographic group. And a 2022 national survey by the Cleveland Clinic reveals that 63 percent of men of color report not getting regular health screenings.
That includes matters of mental health, where Black men also lag behind; Black women are far more likely to see help. That’s important since an increasing body of evidence identifies a crucial link between mental and physical health.
“There are many barriers that get in the way of men checking in with themselves about their wellbeing,” said Jocelyn McQuirter, project manager of See Mental Health, the Hennepin County mental health awareness campaign.
“There’s access to transportation, insurance, and building a level of trust. Having representation with therapists of color who can identify with the complexities of race is important. You want someone who understands where you live, how you talk, who knows that historical trauma may exist.”
McQuirter hopes that See Mental Health, which has a website seementalhealth.org and a mobile unit that is out at events in the community, will encourage men to think about their connections. The campaign urges all people to look for support from those who can “help them find their way forward” with their mental health. The campaign also reminds people that help is sometimes available by initiating something as simple as a conversation.
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“I’m amazed at how a word of encouragement can change the trajectory of where someone is. One text message, one conversation can be a positive,” she said.
While the last decade has seen far greater societal acceptance for discussing mental health and seeking resources, a stubborn stigma still remains.
“Many men hold the belief that, in order to be manly, they need to solve their own problems. When they go to a doctor or therapist, it feels like weakness,” said Lambers Fisher, a licensed marriage and family therapist.
“We need to praise men when they have the wisdom to seek help. When it’s not going well with their mental health, we want them to get help and stay alive rather than impress us with their endurance,” he added.
Fisher, who hosts The Diversity Dude podcast on the SHElettaMakesMeLaugh.com podcasting platform, encourages men to be proactive with their mental health with a few internal shifts. “Create a safe environment to express feelings and practice sharing them with your partner or people you trust. So often men only share when we have a problem to solve,” he said.
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“Work on developing a wider emotional vocabulary. Expound on the basic four feeling words: happy, mad, sad, afraid. Look for the nuances; that’s where the skill comes in. This can help you in your relationship, and also with your friends and at your job.”
Professionals know that taking men’s mental health seriously can be life-saving.
Men are more likely to suffer what researchers now call “deaths of despair:” premature death from alcoholism, overdose, and suicide. Undiagnosed and untreated mood disorders in younger men are associated with risk-taking behaviors and the use of substances. Older men with chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease experience worse outcomes and shortened lives when they also live with depression.
Researchers say men are less likely than women to seek preventive care and are more likely to not have their own primary care provider, who can be a critical link in navigating the complexities of all aspects of the health care system.
It’s time for men to resolve to take the first step to better health that will benefit them all year round.
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“Awareness months give us an opportunity to think about something intentionally,” Fisher said. “Men who take care of themselves are modeling something important.”
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