How can we help our men to speak openly about their health? 22

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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”.

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?

Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. This is true men do not like to let people know about their health issues. I think it is that they consider not being in control of their health like they might all other areas of themselves to be a sign of weakness. My husband fighting the fight of his life right is one. He hates for people to ask him how he is and would much rather we did not tell anyone about it either. When a person rang him for what ever reason and thinking he did sound well asked him if he was ill and his answer… ‘just a bit of flu…’ Say what.

  2. I don’t see why anyone, male or female, should have to talk about their problems if they don’t want to. If we are talking about the high profile people that have recently passed away, it’s obvious that their families knew and that’s all that matters. Why does everything need to be public knowledge.

    3 REPLY
    • Couldn’t agree more . It’s not anyone else’s business . And there are many many people out there suffering that are not high profile people but still, suffering the same way .

    • Exactly and they choose to keep things to themselves. Their life, their choice. Yes there are times when people should ask for help with dealing with problems. But in this particular scenario, the people important to the individual knew what was happening…the rest of the world didn’t need to know.

  3. I agree with you Gail. People who have a high profile have a right to protect their privacy and their families through difficult and private times.
    I also say I am fine at times when I am not, simply because how I feel is my business.
    Also I recover and people still seem to think I am sick or down. They care, I know.

  4. I think more like a male then on this one, who wants to hear about other people’s health problems, it’s a personal thing.

  5. I have always found this to be the other way around, men will run to the Doctor with every little ailment whereas women will put off going to the Doctor.

  6. My partner (I don’t live with him) of 30 years, never shuts up about his health issues, most especially his arthritis, it’s hard to get any sort of conversation out of him that doesn’t include the words “pain” or “knees” I’m afraid I have lost sympathy, he’s getting replacements in April….bring it on!

  7. My husband speaks freely about his health issues to the point where his Urologist asked him to counsel fellow prostate sufferers. My husband has a good attitude and speaks frankly. He has found that the quickest way to clear a room of men is to start talking about Prostate Cancer. They simply do not want to know. He has been asked by his Neurologist to speak at a conference of specialists about the way he handles his Dystonia. He and his Neurologist are breaking new ground on managing this horrible disease. The main problem with my husband would be shutting him up. He is my inspiration.

  8. My husband didn’t tell me he was ill, I hadn’t noticed anything wrong except he didn’t want to go on holiday to our favourite place. It wasn’t until a friend who had been a nurse noticed his eys said get him to the doctors there is something wrong. Of course it was too late. IF ONLY – he could have still been with me and seen his beautiful Great Grandchildren.

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