When I was growing up, no one ever got cancer. At least that’s how it seemed, because no one ever talked about it.
And if they did, they would never say ‘cancer’, it was known as ‘The Big C’.
Thank goodness, things have changed. Cancer is no longer taboo and with that shedding of secrecy has come better health outcomes.
More people recognise the signs and symptoms, which means we seek help earlier, receive diagnoses earlier and get treatment earlier.
Not talking about things when it comes to health isn’t helpful.
Normalising the conversation increases awareness, so people can not only spot the early signs of a potential problem, but they’re also more aware of how and where to get help. As men, we aren’t good at looking after ourselves – so ladies, please prompt us to check our testicles in the shower once a month, especially those younger men – maybe sons, nephews, brothers, friends…
More conversations around menopause
While we’ve had a real breakthrough in this with cancer, it’s still a work in progress with other areas of physical and mental health.
Take the menopause, for example. This is another thing that no one ever talked about when I was young and probably not even until a few years ago.
But this is an area where I’ve noticed the conversation is really starting to change. Positive messages and awareness campaigns are getting out there and people are talking much more openly about it.
Moving from October, as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, into Movember is a great segue from women’s health into men’s health. This year, I’ve seen many more men attending menopause webinars and women attending men’s health webinars.
And that’s the way it should be – sharing knowledge and supporting each other. Prostate cancer is often called ‘a couple’s disease’ because of the effect on intimacy of our relationships.
I also saw a lot more open conversations happening online on October 18th, World Menopause Day.
And over the last few years we’ve seen more celebrities raising awareness by discussing their own experience of menopause on TV, not least BBC Breakfast presenter Louise Minchin who shared her story with viewers and is making a documentary about it.
Even five years ago, this isn’t something that was really being openly and honestly talked about, and yet it’s something everyone is affected by. Whether you’re a woman who may well go through it or you have female friends/loved ones who are going through it, you’ll likely be affected by menopause at some point. It too can be a ‘couple’s disease’.
There is no health without mental health
It’s the same when it comes to mental health. We all have mental health and it changes over time as we journey through life, just as our physical health does.
Normalising the conversation about this and how we are doing on a regular basis moves us further away from a seemingly massive step by having to press the on/off ’emergency button’ that says – ‘I’m not OK’.
By talking about our health regularly, we can note the smaller fluctuations and encourage an earlier intervention or positive action when required instead of waiting until the last minute, when there are so many fewer options left for us and our chances of a positive outcome are lessened.
There’s no such thing as health without mental health. The physical and mental aspects of our health are intertwined, and while parity between the two isn’t quite there yet, it’s getting closer.
Just like we have physical first aid, we also now have mental health first aid to help people spot signs and symptoms of mental ill health and provide assistance.
And just like has happened with cancer and is starting to happen with the menopause, the conversation around mental health is beginning to open up. We’re starting to normalise talking about the way we’re feeling emotionally – but we need to keep working at it.
The more we keep talking about our own mental health and keep checking in with people about how they’re doing, the less people will feel alone. If you’re not sure how to check in with someone, read this blog on what to say and what not to say.
More conversations mean more people knowing that there is help out there and where to get it. And that means more people having better mental health outcomes.
It’s a proven technique that talking to someone about your stress reduces how stressed you’re feeling.
So, let’s make sure mental health isn’t the C-word of our generation.
Keep talking. Keep sharing. Keep connecting and checking in.
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