November is Men's Health Month, an opportunity to raise awareness about men’s health in all aspects, including their mental wellbeing – there’s no health without mental health.
What it means to be a man is changing, and lots of men are getting on board and supporting their fellow tane. Fortunately, more and more men are talking about how they’re doing inspired by brave men, like Sir John Kirwan, who opened up about their personal struggles, encouraging others to talk about their mental health and seek help.
Although we have come a long way into changing the gender narrative and the idea of what being a man looks like, gender stereotypes and stigma still make it harder for men to acknowledge when they need help and reach out. In Aotearoa New Zealand, this means a pressure to conform to the ‘Kiwi bloke’ stereotype of masculinity for self-worth. And Māori and Pasifika men are disproportionately affected by mental health struggles.
How can we support boys and men (tane) in looking after their mental health and wellbeing? Encouraging empathy and creating space for conversation is key in paving the way for them to feel safe to deal with their emotions, show their vulnerabilities and seek help.
The Māori model of health and wellbeing Te Whare Tapa Whā (designed by Sir Mason Durie) is a great tool to talk about mental health to all, including our boys and men.
Wellbeing is seen as a wharenui/meeting house with four walls. The walls represent taha wairua/spiritual wellbeing, taha hinengaro/mental and emotional wellbeing, taha tinana/physical wellbeing and taha whānau/family and social wellbeing. The foundation represents our connection with the whenua/land.
According to the Mental Health Foundation:
Taha whānau refers to those people we care about, who give us a sense of closeness and belonging. This means of family, friends, colleagues and community.
Taha wairua is about taking notice and appreciating the beauty around us. It’s about rediscovering things that make us feel awe, hope, strength, unity and connection. Think about what wairua means to you and ways to strengthen it.
Taha tinana is about how your body feels and how you care for it. What’s important is that you do what you can to nurture it.
Taha hinengaro is your mind, heart, conscience, thoughts and feelings. Just like your physical health, your hinengaro needs to be nurtured. Hinengaro is what you do to stimulate and refresh your mind so you can better cope with the ups and downs of life.
Whenua is our connection to the land. It’s soil, plants, animals and people – tangata whenua. It’s the earth through which you are connected to your tūpuna/ancestors. Whenua is a place of belonging and it’s comforting that it is never too far away.
By having balance across these aspects of wellbeing, men (and everyone) can thrive.
If you or someone you know could benefit from support for male mental wellbeing, you may also be interested in:
Men’s Health Trust - Promoting good health for New Zealand men.
Men’s Sheds (New Zealand) - Community spaces where men share their skills and work on practical tasks for themselves or others.
Cancer Society (Get the Tools) - Providing health information for Māori men.
Man Alive (counselling and support) - Providing counselling and support services for men by men.