Empowering Men's Health in Asia: Breaking Barriers and Promoting Wellbeing

International Men's Health Month holds significant importance as it serves as a dedicated period to raise awareness and address the specific challenges faced by men regarding their physical and mental wellbeing. It provides a platform to shed light on issues surrounding men’s health whether that be specific health challenges or cultural barriers that prevent open conversations about these topics. The purpose is to educate and engage individuals, organisations and communities across the region, where together we can help prioritise and improve men’s health, aligning to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 3 to “ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages.” 

Men's health in Asia has historically been overlooked, with cultural norms and stigma inhibiting open discussions about both mental and physical wellbeing. However, significant progress has been made in raising awareness and addressing the challenges that men in Asia often face. 

In the region, men face significant challenges concerning mental health. Societal expectations of stoicism and self-reliance discourage men from seeking help and discussing their emotional wellbeing openly. In 2019, the World Health Organisation conducted a study on suicide rates and found that in the South-East Asia region there were higher suicide rates among men compared to the global male average . In addition, depression and anxiety remain prevalent but often undiagnosed and untreated due to the stigma associated with mental health. Traditional gender roles that emphasise toughness and emotional suppression contribute to the stigma surrounding men's mental health. However, recent years have seen a shift in cultural perceptions, with more emphasis on breaking down these barriers and encouraging men to prioritise their mental wellbeing.

The rise of digital platforms has played a significant role in increasing access to mental health resources for men in Asia. Online platforms, such as websites and social media channels, provide information, self-assessment tools and anonymous forums for individuals to seek support and share their experiences. Helplines and chat services have also been established to offer immediate assistance to those in crisis or in need of guidance.

Community-based initiatives have emerged to create safe spaces and support networks for men to discuss their mental health challenges. Support groups and peer networks allow men to connect with others facing similar issues, providing a sense of belonging and encouragement. 

Influential figures, including celebrities and public figures, have openly shared their personal experiences with mental health struggles, challenging societal perceptions and inspiring others to seek help. Their openness has had a profound impact on reducing the stigma associated with mental health, encouraging men to come forward and seek support without fear of judgment.

At Community Business, we brought This is Me to India and then the rest of the Asia region where we have supported, encouraged and produced people’s stories of their mental health challenges. 

How does this compare to physical health? Men in Asia face specific physical health challenges due to lifestyle changes and occupational hazards. Sedentary jobs, unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise have contributed to a rise in non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity. Occupational stressors, long working hours, and limited work-life balance further impact men's physical wellbeing. 

Where has this stemmed from? Traditional gender norms often discourage men from openly discussing their health issues. The term "man up" has historically been associated with societal expectations of masculinity, emphasising strength, stoicism and emotional suppression. For example in the Philippines, the role of the father as the “haligi ng tahanan” (“pillar of the home”) forces fathers to be a sign of strength and not to show weakness as the pressure of the family sits on their shoulders. The term “mard” in Hindi describes men that are courageous, the hero, a person who does not have weaknesses. This has been portrayed and popularised in movies and warps men to feel pressured to believe that is the ‘gold standard’ and that all men should be like this. 

However, in recent history, there has been a noticeable shift in societal attitudes and awareness regarding men's health. Increased recognition of the importance of holistic health and the impact of mental and physical wellbeing on overall quality of life has fuelled efforts to address men's health challenges. Men are increasingly challenging traditional gender norms, seeking support and engaging in open conversations about their mental health.

To further promote men's health in Asia, collective action is necessary. First, education and awareness campaigns should be prioritised to increase understanding and reduce stigma surrounding mental health. This includes implementing mental health education in workplaces, and community settings. Second, healthcare systems should enhance access to mental health services. Finally and arguably most importantly, we must work towards creating safe and supportive environments where men can openly discuss their health concerns.

This can be achieved through support groups and community networks. For example, many organisations are introducing and implementing Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs) in the workplace who are volunteer employees that undergo typically a 2-day course learning about the signs of mental health challenges and the ability to signpost to further support. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) with specific focus on mental health sometimes referred to as Wellbeing Ambassadors has proven successful when creating a safe space for individuals to share their experiences and challenges. At Community Business, in our Mental Wellbeing training sessions we focus on identifying common signs and symptoms of workplace mental health challenges and empower individuals on how to have a conversation about mental health. The combination of knowledge, community and support further destigmatises mental health challenges especially amongst men where the stigma is not just cultural but also gendered. 

The journey towards raising men's health awareness in Asia has witnessed significant progress in recent years. By challenging cultural norms, promoting open conversations, and prioritising both mental and physical health, we can ensure that men's health receives the attention and support it deserves, leading to healthier and happier communities throughout the region.

About the Author: Chris Mack, Programme Manager, Employee Wellbeing