Why aren’t we talking about the “Blue Ribbon”?

By Ankita Amatya
May 12, 2017

How many of us actually know about the “blue” ribbon? Women’s health has been a great priority worldwide and the result shows. Everyone is now familiar with the “pink” ribbon and its association with breast cancer. Yet, few know that there is also a “blue” ribbon to raise awareness about prostate cancer. Men’s health, somehow, evades the attention of people. Currently, the life expectancy of female in Nepal is 70.8 whereas for male it is 67.7 (WHO, 2015). How come it’s the way it is?

In Nepal, the highest mortality rate causing diseases in the case of men are cardiovascular diseases (27.9%), followed by diarrhea, lower respiratory and other common infectious diseases (10.1%), chronic respiratory diseases (9.8%), HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (7.9%), and cancer (7.5%). Amongst the cardiovascular diseases, the most deadly source of harm is coronary heart disease followed by stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and hypertensive heart disease. With it on the list are lower respiratory infections and self-harm.

Looking at the facts, we can see a common factor at play. Many of the diseases that catch up as men age are linked to the habits and lifestyle they had during their younger times. According to the statistics, the top five risk factors are dietary risks, high systolic blood pressure, air pollution, smoking and high fasting plasma glucose. Among the list of risk factors are alcohol and drug use, low physical activity, high body mass index and high total cholesterol. All these behavioral risks do start early on. The more unhealthy your lifestyle as a man is when you are young, the more at risk you are when you get older.

We know the risks, we know the consequences. How come we still don’t talk about men’s health issues? One of the main challenges men face is defying gender stereotypes. As much as us women are assumed to be frail and weak, as a man you are expected to be tough and strong all the time. You are not supposed to reveal that you are vulnerable and can fall victim to any disease. For example, a huge reason why we keep it all “hush, hush” is the “taboo” branding that comes with talking about health issues such as sexual reproductive health.

Social norms and stereotypes also influence the lifestyle choices of many men in Nepal. Society places so much pressure on you to be successful and provide for your families, that many of you might not be able to cope with setbacks that results in resorting to unhealthy behavior such as drinking to deal with your sorrows. Seeking help and opening up about the struggle you are going through, as a man, is usually considered as acknowledging that there is a problem, so society prefers to keep things under disguise by tolerating alcohol and other substance abuse. Similarly, as a result of social habits, you are expected to engage in drinking and heavy eating during social gatherings, aren’t you? Boys grow up copying such behavior from their parents, family and neighbours. Declining to drink or smoke is being seen as asocial, weak and unmanly and hence it is challenging to lead a healthy lifestyle.

What can be done in this case? Awareness is a big part of the solution and needs to start at an early age. Even when you are a young man, you should know what diseases you are at risk of and what symptoms you should look out for. Hence, there is a need for specific campaigns that target youth and inform them of the lifestyle they should adapt in order to prevent or delay the future risks. Knowing about the effects of your lifestyle is crucial as well. Many international campaigns are being carried out through mediums of TV, music, media and sports stars, and the color blue has been associated with them. Having said this, nothing will work unless everyone, including you, can overcome the stereotypes and the taboo issue. It needs to start with you yourself and ultimately accepting that will spread like a wildfire. It’s high time we break the strain for men to “be like a man”.

Ultimately, there is a necessity for men of all ages to be informed about their health. People are habituated of visiting the doctors when and only when they get sick. Rather than that, you should at least get an annual check-up, where the risks and symptoms are explained thoroughly, to lead a healthy life. From early on, you should change your lifestyle and adapt a healthy one. Most of the risk factors can be avoided or diminished just by slightly tweaking one’s way of life. The attitude of people regarding stereotypes or taboos need to be tackled. If you are uncomfortable, start small. Try talking with your trusted friends and family. Seek professional help where patient confidentiality is respected. You should feel empowered to talk freely about it and without any embarrassment.

It is high time we took a step towards the betterment of men’s health and support them in their journey of speaking out about their issues.