Psychologist Will Courtenay, PhD, has crafted a plan clinicians can use to help men convert potentially hazardous behaviors into health advantages. Courtenay, a Berkeley, Calif.-based psychotherapist and masculinity researcher, outlines the plan for health-care professionals in his book “Dying to Be Men: Psychosocial, Environmental, and Biobehavioral Directions in Promoting the Health of Men and Boys” (Routledge, 2011):

  • Humanize. Men commonly think that their health concerns are wimpy and unmanly, says Courtenay. “And they think other men aren’t concerned about their health,” he notes. “We need to tell them, ‘Your buddies are worried about their health, too, and that’s OK. Everyone is. It’s human.’”
  • Educate. Research shows that men are less knowledgeable about health, and people with the least health knowledge are more likely to be at risk for illnesses and accidents, or to put themselves at risk — whether by riding a motorcycle helmetless, speeding, skipping the seatbelt, or abusing drugs and alcohol, says Courtenay. That’s why health education is key, he says.
  • Assume the worst. Men tend to deny and minimize symptoms and to think they’re invulnerable to disease and injury, says Courtenay. “They need a reality check,” he says. People who don’t think they are at risk don’t tend to take precautions with their health, he explains.
  • Locate supports. Men, on average, have fewer friends and smaller social networks than women, says Courtenay, and studies show a link between social support and better health. “Men, especially single men, should be encouraged to start a poker night or join a church,” says Courtenay.
  • Tailor a plan. “Men are more likely to have a maintenance plan for their car than their body,” says Courtenay. These types of men need to understand that, just like their car, they need regularly scheduled tune-ups to help them run right, he says.
  • Harness strengths. The stereotype of men being achievement-oriented, competitive problem-solvers can work to health-care providers’ advantage; the key is to explain to men how, by taking control, they can beat diseases, says Courtenay.

—B. Murray-Law