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Must make safe spaces for men to talk about their health: Nivendra Uduman

2 years ago

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The Movember Series

By Naveed Rozais While May is the official month designated to celebrate and raise awareness on men’s health issues, November too has in recent years gained global popularity as a month in which to raise awareness and provoke discussion on men’s health issues such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, men’s mental health, and men’s suicide. Known globally as “Movember”, the concept of Movember was initially introduced by Australian charity organisation The Movember Foundation. Movember began as a month-long initiative that encouraged men across the world to grow their moustaches in the month of November to build awareness on men’s issues (Movember itself is a portmanteau of the Australian slang for moustache “mo” and November). [caption id="attachment_106412" align="alignleft" width="300"] "It is important that we acknowledge that men sometimes have unique needs, and their perceptions of illness and wellness may be different to what is commonly understood" Counselling psychologist and psychotherapist Nivendra Uduman [/caption] This Movember, The Sunday Morning Brunch sits down with several influential Sri Lankan men for their perspective on men’s health, building awareness, and what we can do to make a difference. This week, we spoke with counselling psychologist and psychotherapist Nivendra Uduman for his views on men’s health issues and men’s mental health. Uduman shared that men’s health is an under-discussed issue, particularly in the Sri Lankan context, and that male mental health, sexual health, and other aspects of physical health are issues that are not always addressed in our system. “It is important that we acknowledge that men sometimes have unique needs, and their perceptions of illness and wellness may be different to what is commonly understood,” Uduman said, adding: “Globally, we know that men tend to take their health more lightly than people of other genders, and this is often linked with alcohol use, unidentified/undiagnosed mental illness, and the stigma surrounding men seeking help. “This is no different in Sri Lanka, though there has been an increase in young men between the age range of 16-35 seeking help for mental health problems in the recent past – which is very encouraging.” Below are more excerpts of his conversation with The Sunday Morning Brunch. What are the biggest issues you feel men face in terms of health and wellness? Men historically have had to face significant challenges with health and wellbeing throughout their lifespan for a number of reasons. Middle-aged and older men are often left out of the conversation around health and wellbeing, and their specific needs are not always addressed. Concerns around fatherhood, andropause, and post-retirement mental health are examples of conversations that are neglected in our society. Another significant issue that intersects with all of the above is our ideas around masculinity and what it means to “be a man”. Something I often hear in my work with male individuals in therapy is “I need to fix my problems on my own”. There is resistance to being vulnerable, asking for help, expressing one’s emotions, and, most importantly, soothing oneself using healthy strategies.  Ideas of being stoic, tough, and the conditioning that many men receive over the course of childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood make it difficult to acknowledge one’s feelings and to accept support. We have to change the narrative around health and wellbeing. By seeking help, one is taking action and taking control over one’s concerns. The powerful metaphor of putting on your oxygen mask first before helping the person next to you on an aeroplane comes to mind when I think about how, when men begin to really care for themselves, it makes it easier for them to look after those they care about and love. What is lacking in men’s mental health discussions?  This is not an easy question to answer, because we hardly have any conversations about men’s health in Sri Lanka. There are advocates and people who are really passionate about making the effort every day, but these conversations are only reaching a particular segment of society. This has to be a more inclusive discussion. There are efforts when it's International Men’s Day or when it’s November every year, but I believe we need a more sustainable approach. What can we do to provoke discussion and create safe spaces for men to talk about their health, and particularly their mental health, openly? We have to get creative about making safe spaces for men to talk about their health and wellbeing – this involves physical, psychological, and social health. There needs to be opportunities for men to create meaningful connections in their lives. A typical therapy room or a doctor’s office may not suffice, but taking it out into the community through sport, the workplace, support groups, and more focused awareness can really help create change. What message do you feel is most important to share this Movember? We need more men to come out, to speak about their experiences, and to encourage other men to care for themselves. Our healthcare system or a few advocates cannot do this alone. This has to be a collective effort. We have to combat the stigma and shame around male health and normalise the experience of caring for one’s body, mind, and spirit. ------ Sri Lanka has several crisis hotlines for those in need of mental health support. If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or otherwise at risk emotionally or mentally, please reach out on the following hotlines: 
  • 1333 – a 24-hour hotline by Courage Compassion Commitment (CCC) Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation based in Sri Lanka and Australia to provide services in the areas of cancer and mental wellbeing.
  • 0112 696 666 – a hotline by the government-approved charity Sumithrayo that provides confidential emotional support to those in need (in operation from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily).
  • 1926 – the 24-hour National Mental Healthline at the National Institute of Mental Health which provides emotional support to those in need until they can meet a mental health professional.

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