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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Approaching Men
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Men are trained to ignore their health, but this impacts every layer of society. Jean Bonhomme and Ric Bothwell of The Men’s Health Network defined the problem and pointed to some possible strategies to improve men’s health.

Ric Bothwell of the Men’s Health Network describes what does not work when trying to improve men’s health: social media. Bothwell, a consultant and Ph.D. in Community Development and Public Health, explained, “Throughout history, for a man to ask for help from someone he did not know was something that could get him killed. We will continue to fail if we wait for men to ask for help with their health.”

Jean Bonhomme, Assistant Professor at Morehouse Medical School and a member the board of directors of the Men’s Health Network, put it succinctly saying, “Men’s health is not just a men’s issue. There is a misguided approach here that any focus on men’s health is taking away from the focus on women and children’s health. Men’s health does affect the health of women and children.”

We asked Dr. Bothwell, “So if you are trying to positively impact the health of men, what does work?” He described developing a platoon system is the best way for men to accept help saying, “That’s someone who walks like me, who talks like me. That is someone who has got my back. That is how men develop the trust to be able to accept help.” A platoon of 12 men seems to work best.

Professor Bonhomme pointed to the source of the problem saying, “For boys, healthcare falls off the face of the earth when they come of age. ‘It will go away in a few days.’ Yeah, if you’re young! We actually teach boys to ignore their bodies. ‘Suck it up,’ we tell them.”

“When we talk about men’s health, it is not just men we are talking about. There are four prongs we have to address: men’s health, women’s health, children’s health, and the health of minorities. We have to address all of these areas because they affect everyone.” A limited diagnosis—isolating one of those prongs—leads to bad data, according to Bonhomme. “There is an economic impact when men get sick that impacts entire families.”

Bothwell first got interested in men’s health issues when living and working on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the early 1970s. He said, “The suicide rate was three to five times higher for men than it was for women. Something was going on there. There was more alcohol abuse among men, along with more diabetes and heart disease. Men more often felt worthless and hopeless, you could see it in their faces.”

Bothwell continued, “The secret to reaching men was a network at the community level to provide information and guidance for men so they could stay out of the hospital. We had a behavioral and medical provider reach men and talk at their level. Also, all the providers were culturally competent. They had to have enough history with them to have credibility.”

“We are impairing society’s need by our failure to recognize that attention to men’s health helps others,” Professor Bonhomme stated.

This writer had his first checkup in almost 25 years, thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). While researching this story, I had blood work and the oscilloscope on my chest and back—everything done. At the gown portion of checkup, the doctor declared, “That hernia is a work of art! How long have you had it?” "Ten years", I told her. “Does it hurt?” she asked. “Started to hurt last week,” I said. I heard a barely perceptible incredulous snort, and she looked me in the eye and said, “You need to get that fixed now.” I thought of how Jean Bonhomme had signed off his interview with a quote from Dolomite, the 70’s comic hero: “A mule kicked me, didn’t muss my hide. Rattlesnake bit me, and I took it all in stride.”

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