A message from Dr. Evan Adams, Deputy Chief Medical Officer; and Dr. Nolan Hop Wo, Medical Officer, Mental Health and Wellness
International Men's Health Week (June 12 to 18 this year) is a public health event to raise awareness of preventable health problems for men.
As Indigenous men who are physicians, we are especially interested in this subject! We would like to share some practical and important advice we follow ourselves to build resilience in our health and wellness. This advice includes the usual suspects, i.e., a) taking care of yourself by eating healthy foods, being active, nurturing spirit, and respecting tobacco; b) getting screened regularly to ensure early detection and treatment of health problems; and some perhaps less obvious suspects, i.e., c) being aware of new information about the negative effects of alcohol on health, and keeping your intake low; and d) being aware of the importance of community / building and maintaining positive relationships on health, and taking steps to ensure you are doing this.
Following is the latest information about the last two pieces of advice, i.e., how and why we can protect our health by keeping our alcohol consumption low and our relationships strong.
New insights into the effects of alcohol on health
This year, new Canadian guidelines have provided insight into the effects of alcohol on health. Risk has been stratified into categories, with low risk considered one or two standard drinks per week, moderate risk considered three to six drinks per week, and high risk considered seven or more drinks per week. These categories are different from what was previously recommended in Canada. Increased risks include cancers such as breast cancer and colon cancer, as well as increased chances of having a stroke or heart disease. Heavy alcohol consumption can also increase the risk for mental health issues, as alcohol is a depressant. One important point is that any reduction in your current weekly alcohol consumption will decrease your risks. Tips for drinking less include setting targets, counting your drinks, identifying triggers for alcohol use, and asking for supports.
Traditional wisdom about the protective factors of relationships on health
The First Nations Perspective on Wellness tells us that relationships sustain us, and that they must be maintained both within oneself and with those around us if we are to be healthy and well. Relationships are about togetherness, team-building, capacity-building, nurturing, sharing, strength, accountability, and love. Maintaining and creating relationships with friends, family, and community can decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation while increasing resilience and a sense of belonging. There has been a trend that, as men get older, they can have difficulty creating deep and meaningful relationships. As Indigenous people, we know from traditional teachings about the importance of creating and maintaining relationships with friends, family, and community. This can be especially hard if you have recently moved into a new community. Tips for making friends include joining local group activities or reaching out to your local Friendship Centre to participate or volunteer. Friends help us stay more active, and give us a place to explore ourselves and our feelings. Friendships also help us build our resilience for when we need more support, or can provide support to others.
We hope you are already practising this health and wellness advice, but if not, we encourage you to start now! Set some reasonable goals, like going for regular walks if you have been inactive, reducing your alcohol intake if you have been drinking too heavily, or taking steps to get involved in community if you have been isolated. Remember, even the longest journey begins with a single step.