How can we help our men to speak openly about their health?

Last week, the world was left stunned and grieving after the death of iconic musician David Bowie and much-loved actor Alan Rickman. Both men died from cancer, but chose not to speak publicly about their health challenges.

Of course, health is a private, personal and sometimes confronting journey. Everybody is entitled to make their own choices about sharing sensitive information, but it struck me that we often see female celebrities speaking publicly about their health battles. So how can we support our men to talk openly about health, if that’s their wish?

Firstly, men need to feel comfortable discussing their health with one another. Women are often aware of different health conditions because they speak openly with their peers about exercise, diet and any unusual symptoms. My friends and I routinely swap health information, which has led to early diagnoses and improved medical treatments for some of us.

On the other hand, men don’t often speak with their friends or family about health. Samuel L Jackson, the 64-year-old American, is a spokesperson with One For The Boys for this very reason. This charity encourages men talk about illness in a constructive and supportive way.

“We’ll talk about our injuries but we won’t talk about our illnesses, so I think it’s time we do that”, Mr Jackson said. “I realised most guys don’t talk to other guys about what their medical conditions are – especially cancer conditions”.

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This brings me to my second point. I think men often have a subconscious habit of connecting illness to ‘weakness’, when reality is quite the opposite. As Samuel L Jackson said, “men don’t talk about cancer (because) it’s not the manly thing to do”. Men need to feel reassured that fighting illness actually shows true bravery, strength and determination.

Lastly, I think it’s important that men express their feelings in a way that’s appropriate for each individual. David Bowie obviously found solace in his art. “I’ve got scars that can’t be seen”, said his last-ever single Lazarus. Whilst Alan Rickman spent his last few weeks recording videos in support of refugee charities. Everybody is different, and there is no right or wrong way to process health fears.

As women, we can remind our men to attend regular health check-ups. We can encourage our husbands to talk to their brothers, sons and good mates about health. We can support the decisions our men make in relation to health, whether it’s to discuss their journey publicly or remain private. And we can remember people like David Bowie and Alan Rickman, who were brave men right through to the end.

How do you encourage the men in your life to approach their health? Do you think men’s health needs to be given more public attention?