Health and Wellbeing

Rod Mitchell, President of the Western Australian Men's Health and Wellbeing Association, has presented talks to the W.A. Association of Health Promotion Professionals, the Central Division of General Practice, and WA Association of Mental Health. Here's his summary of the key men's health and wellbeing issues.

The Issues

Society's conditioning of boys and men destroys our abilities to maintain our own health and well-being and to support other men in maintaining theirs. From an early age we get hurt, abused, beaten, put down, ignored, abandoned, humiliated, called a girl, sissy, or poof for showing any vulnerability.

Boys are denied access to natural healing processes; they are told don't cry, don't show your feelings, be fearless, be a man - don't be a girl.

One effect of this conditioning is that males are reluctant to ask for help from doctors, counsellors, family and friends. We tend to seek help only in a crisis, by which time the problem has usually escalated.

This conditioning is internalised and then acted out in many forms of abuse and self-abuse which are detrimental to our health and well-being:

minimising or ignoring our injuries and illnesses, suppressing and denying our feelings of pain and distress, staying tough, controlled, invulnerable, isolated

  • using addictions and over-activity (such as over-working) to numb the pain or distract ourselves from it
  • excessive risk-taking
  • competing for power, money, work, status, and sex
  • being obsessed with sex, sometimes risking unsafe sex
  • hating or not liking ourselves
  • being violent and abusive
  • ignoring our inter-connectedness with each other, with women and children, the environment and all living things.

Denial of the abuse

While the abuse of girls is generally recognised, the abuse of boys is shrouded in denial and confusion. It is seen to be normal even by its victims ...."It didn't do me any harm" we say.

To prevent abuse of boys we need first to acknowledge and name the abuse; break the silence, recognise its role in later life.

We need to

  • make it known that boys (and girls) aren't as resilient as adults think they are
  • change the culture that supports or promotes the abuse; especially schools and sporting institutions
  • encourage and support boys to feel, cry, shake and heal instead of thinking "Thank God he's stopped crying"
  • stay close to boys, don't pull back or distance from them, don't withhold closeness and touch.

The way forward

Change the culture that conditions boys and men to neglect their physical and emotional health

Challenge our society's negativity and hopelessness about men being able to change

Help men (and boys) heal by creating safety; remind them they are good, that you like them, that you don't blame them for the way they are

Listen generously: listen, love, appreciate, approve, understand, support us as we cry and shake

Challenge the institutions that uphold and perpetuate the negative conditioning of boys and men

Develop programs in schools and other community settings which challenge male conditioning and promote boy's and men's health and well-being

Build and support networks and organisations which promote healthy attitudes and lifestyles for men and boys

Create supportive environments in which men can overcome their conditioning, heal their hurts, reclaim their health and regain their well-being.

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