Important advice for men - ‘Check In, Check Up and Check it Out’

This month I am shining a spotlight on Men’s Health and with good reason.

Nichola Smyth and Tracey Latimer at Resurgam Healthy Living Centre supporting the 'Talking Balls' campaign

Men make up half the population or about 71,700 men in the Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council Area, but most importantly men tend to have poorer health and seem to be less likely to seek help for health issues.

Those are the reasons behind Men’s Health week, which takes place each June and traditionally ends on Father’s Day.

The theme this year was so good I felt it needed more than one week’s worth of attention – Making the Connections.

Also, with some fantastic synergy this also ‘connects’ with our new Mayor for Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council, Alderman Stephen Martin, who has highlighted the importance of connections for his new year ahead. So with Mayoral approval, lets focus on the men!

For Men’s Health Week ‘Men’s Health in Numbers: Northern Irelands Men’s Health Report Card 2021’ was produced.

Men’s health has seen some improvement in areas like more men in employment, more young men in education or training, most men are physically active and less men are dying through suicide or heart disease, which is all a good news story.

However in any report card there is also the ‘could do better’ - so we also know that most men are either overweight or obese, 1/5 of men reported being lonely with 1/4 of those being in the 55-64 age range, and 2/5 of men aged 16 + had a physical or mental health condition expected to last longer than 12 months.

We could also do more to encourage men to eat the recommended levels of five portions of fruit and vegetables per week.

Most men drink alcohol with over ¼ drinking beyond the recommended healthy limits and there has been an increase in the number of men dying specifically related to their alcohol use.

It’s not good news in relation to sexually transmitted infections also, with the number of men diagnosed with gonorrhoea having increased significantly.

Cancer is the leading cause of death for men. We also know that the Covid-19 pandemic will impact on all of that.

The good news is that it is possible to change for the better.

Coming out of Covid restrictions we know this is more important than ever. Change can happen anywhere so let’s start with you by checking in!

Take a minute – how are you? How are you physically and emotionally?

We all know that Coronavirus and the harm the virus can cause has impacted on us all. Everything has changed. We have new rules around hand washing, physical distancing, wearing masks, getting tested if you have symptoms or tested in schools or workplaces regularly and getting vaccinated as soon as you can.

Covid has also changed other aspects of our lives, this can bring with it additional stress within marriages/partnerships, families and communities.

Job losses, family stresses and tensions, financial difficulties, isolation, illness, grief and loss all take a toll on our health. So, ask yourself the question: how am I feeling?

In this difficult time, what are you doing that helps? Some people may find they are smoking or drinking more than usual or maybe finding it difficult to sleep, or sleeping all the time.

You might find you are worrying more than not or eating all the time or completely lost your appetite? Have you started walking or exercising more, maybe being together as a family has given you more quality time together, or you have restarted an old hobby or learnt something new?

Whatever is going on for you, if it feels good and what you are doing is bringing you benefits, keep doing it!

However, if you are feeling different from your normal slef and you are not feeling so good, maybe it is time to do something about it?

Talking to friends, family or someone outside of this could be a starting point.

Maybe you need to get some information or find out about other services to help. For example to help you lose weight, improve your sleep, manage stress, socialise, orlearn something new. Whatever it is, there is support out there.

You can contact the Healthy Living Centre if you are not sure where to start looking, we can help. It is possible to make things better – make the connection.

Secondly ‘Check Up!’ DJ and ‘I am a Celebrity’ favourite Roman Kemp’s programme, ‘The Silent Emergency’ (available on BBC iPlayer) looked at how difficult men, despite having close friendships, find it to ask for help, particularly when they feel at their lowest.

In the programme a group of friends talked about the importance of checking in with their male friends - but ‘Asking Twice’.

How many times do we say “Hi how are you? How’s things?” but we are not really listening or expecting an answer, or we get told “fine” or “ok” and then we move on. Take a minute and think about it. Asking twice encourages us to ask your friends, family or even a stranger how they are.

Ask again to give people the space to be heard and to think about their answer. Think about ‘Checking Up’ on all the men or people who identify as men in your life.

‘Asking twice’ might just one of the best things you can do.

Last but by no means least, ‘Check it Out!’

We know last year has made it harder to keep routine healthcare appointments. We know that GP practices have stayed open throughout but they are also incredibly busy. That can be off putting for people – especially men – in checking out something that does not feel quite right or getting access to routine tests such as blood pressure checks, blood sugar or cholesterol or any new signs or symptoms.

Despite the challenges for the health service, there are things you can do. For example, your local pharmacy offers a range of health services and can provide some advice on health conditions and if they cannot help, they will direct you to the appropriate health service that can. If you have other concerns about your health, you should contact your GP. At the minute most GPs will speak to you over the phone and offer advice or, if needed, bring you in for an appointment or test.

For Men’s Health Week, Resurgam Healthy Living Centre supported Friends of the Cancer Centre’s ‘Talking Balls’ campaign - calling on men to check their testicles regularly.

It is the most common cancer affecting men aged 15 – 49 years old. However, it is very treatable when caught early with high survival rates, but early diagnosis is key.

Checking your testicles regularly means you can get to know what is normal for you and spot any changes as early as possible.

The charity is also highlighting some of the symptom’s men should be aware of when carrying out a check including a lump in the testicle, swelling or firmness, pain or a dull ache, or a dragging sensation in the testicle.

If you notice anything unusual for you, or anything you are worried about, make an appointment with your GP.

To get your ‘Talking Balls’ self-check card, which comes with a Talking Balls stress ball- visit friendsofthecancercentre.com.

For all the males out there: check in with yourself, check up on friends (twice), and if something doesn’t feel right - then check it out.