Gender sensitive medicine

Last year the worldwide Movember charitable organisation, in addition to having a LOT to answer for when it came to ridiculous photographs on social media and scratchy snogging, held a symposium on Boys’/Mens’ Mental Health.

Crashing into this again recently made me sit up and ask “Do we paediatrician types alter our consultations / clinics / ward environments to better address the needs of young male patients, or male carers/fathers?”

The summary of the report is that we know some stuff, and we don’t know other stuff, when it comes to getting men thinking about mental health.

The stuff we know:

  • Safe spaces – where men can be without being stigmatised for their health concerns – are important
  • Positive approaches – valuing the men for being men, using language more likely to be acceptable (e.g. coaching vs therapy), and genuine, engaged staff
  • Contextually appropriate and familiar activity – for example, health engagement via football clubs
  • Partnerships between health and non-health seem to improve uptake and continued running of activities

The stuff we don’t know:

  • How using gender-specific approaches in schools could improve mental (and physical) health for boys
  • How age, culture, class and sexuality mix against gender
  • How cost-effective any gender sensitive interventions are
  • What training is best for health care workers

There are lots of elements that could benefit our direct work here too. Value your male patients and use appropriate language (perhaps asking where their health condition has limited what they wanted to do, rather than if they’ve been ill or poorly?), consider conversations side by side at the bedside, rather than face to face (while Alas! Smith & Jones may have faced off against a black curtain, most pub conversations are side by side, and there’s intriguing in-car-while-driving sociology work that shows not being face to face can deepen and allow difficult talking to happen) and perhaps encourage groups of boys to participate in play activities together. So little work seems to have been undertaken that I’m really not sure if any of this is right, wrong, or pointless ..?

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