WKND Conversations: The importance of addressing men's health
The first edition of wknd. conversations, in association with Fakeeh University Hospital, addressed the subject of ‘men’s health’
According to Harvard Medical School’s Health Publishing, men in general are less likely to pay attention to matters of health as compared to women. While both men and women tend to go through largely similar health concerns like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stress and depression, certain health issues unique to men, like prostate cancer and prostate enlargement, are becoming increasingly widespread. While the awareness surrounding the latter conditions is starkly low, the attention on the former may be disproportionately skewed in favour of women.
In the first ever edition of wknd. conversations that took place on July 28, in association with Fakeeh University Hospital, a series of guest speakers and influencers gathered to address the apparent gap in the discourse around men’s health, rooted in a patriarchal understanding of gender roles, indoctrinated through centuries of men being asked to ‘man up’, many a times in similarly excruciating ways that women have been subjected to docility.
When one speaks about meditation and its importance for wellbeing, the focus in modern society immediately gets fixated towards women, who are assumed to be more likely to practise and benefit from these daily habits. The event kickstarted with a short meditation and sound healing session carried out by wellness coach, Delna Mistry Anand, who addressed the range of benefits mindfulness practises can bring about, for both men and women.
Reading the body
The first session comprised a panel discussion with Prof Dr Majid Al Bassuni, Dr Hosam Al Qudah and Essa Al Ansari, tackling some of the most common physical challenges faced by men such as obesity and weight loss.
“The biggest problem in the whole attitude towards men’s health is the belief that men and boys possess — ‘I’m a man, I don’t complain’ or ‘I’m a boy, I don’t cry’… So, we’re indoctrinated through childhood, thinking men don’t suffer,” said Dr Majid Al Bassuni, Consultant Surgeon and Head of Division of Surgical Services.
With over 40 years of medical expertise, Dr Majid believes that problematic notions of masculinity can manifest into more serious health problems. “I’ve seen that men do not believe in early detection, they do not believe in regular check-ups if they’re not suffering from any illness,” Dr Majid mentioned. “And even if they do start complaining about something, they only come in for a check-up when the suffering is too intense or complications arise,” added Dr Majid.
Essa Al Ansari, Social Media Influencer and Motivational Speaker, who goes by the Instagram handle @FitnessWithEssa, has amassed a sizeable following through sharing his own journey to drastic weight loss. Recounting his physical and emotional challenges, Essa said, “I used to wake up during my sleep and my heart was beating so fast, I just couldn’t breathe. I went to see heart doctors, had full check-ups and they said to me, ‘Everything is perfect, nothing is wrong with you.’ So, that’s when I realised I may have anxiety issues.” The influencer also mentioned how food becomes an easy distraction for people suffering from anxiety and other mental health problems, often leading to weight gain and conditions like obesity.
When treating issues related to weight gain and obesity, the panel addressed the interplay of lifestyle habits and disease manifestation. Dr Hosam Al Qudah, Consultant and Lead Urologist, mentioned how men are more likely to suffer the cost of harmful lifestyle choices. “You can’t change your genes or family history but you can change your lifestyle — what you eat, drink, your daily activity. If you don’t exercise every day or control your eating habits, you risk becoming obese, which is now becoming the root cause of most medical problems,” said Dr Hosam. “Men don’t realise how inactive they become. They give into work pressure and fall into the trap of giving most of their lives to work and nothing else,” Dr Majid further added.
Reading the mind
The second session was a panel discussion addressing the mental health challenges faced by men, deconstructing the notions of toxic masculinity. The panel comprised Dr Adil Sajwani, Specialist in Family Medicine; Lokesh Dharmani, Senior Radio Presenter, Arabian Radio Network; and Asad Raza Khan, Playwright, Actor and Creative Consultant.
Spotlighting the prevalence of mental health issues amongst men, Dr Adil mentioned that as per recent studies, one in eight men will have a mental health problem. “Nearly one million people die due to suicide per year, of which around 75 per cent are men. So, it’s evident that men suffer from mental health issues,” Dr Adil said. “But when you go to hospitals where people are being treated for mental health, very few of them would be men. So, men are dying from suffering but they’re less likely to seek help,” he mentioned, addressing the widespread stigma around men wanting to seek help at the risk of coming across as weak or vulnerable.
According to Lokesh Dharmani, one of the ways to normalise men seeking support is to first, be open about how they’re feeling. “I don’t shy away from telling people that I’m having a bad day. Even if I’m on radio, I’ll tell people on my show that today’s not a great day for me. We need to normalise not having a great time all the time,” he said.
Actor-playwright Asad Raza Khan further highlighted that the way in which men have historically been portrayed through films may also play a crucial role in contributing towards the notion of toxic masculinity. “About 70-75 years ago, if you looked at the movies, the man was what we today refer to as the ‘hard, toxic man’, with no emotions, instilling the idea that it’s how men are supposed to be,” said Asad, acknowledging the steady evolution of this narrative. “I think society as a whole, in terms of art form, has progressed. The content people are creating nowadays is starting to challenge these toxic traits that men had been associated to earlier,” added Raza Khan. While the progress has been slow and steady, as the guest panelists acknowledged, facilitating conversations that acknowledge the trajectory of change also become vital to the journey.
(wknd. conversations is a monthly interactive platform where influential leaders from different industries will come together for an interactive session on a variety of different subjects.)