Men’s health remains to be an underserved advocacy in the social profit sphere despite alarming statistics of men suffering from preventable chronic health problems like heart disease and obesity. Led by its President, Wayne Hartrick, the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation (CMHF) is on a mission to inspire men to live healthier lives by being more proactive in modifying their lifestyles. CMHF breaks through the barriers of communicating with men on health issues by engaging them in content relevant to them. Join in as Wayne sits down with Douglas Nelson on the show to discuss the things CMHF is doing to advance this advocacy. They also talk about men’s mental health, men’s health during COVID-19, and reconnecting with the fatherhood role.
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Canadian Men’s Health Foundation With Wayne Hartrick
Our guest is Wayne Hartrick. He’s the President of the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation and we’re pleased to have him on the show. Welcome.
Thank you. I appreciate being here.
Your foundation was started in 2014 to inspire men to live healthier lives. For some of our readers who might not be familiar with your organization, tell us a little bit about it.
Our mission is to inspire men to live healthier lives by adopting healthier proactive lifestyles. Simple things that we all know about, eating a little better, being more active, getting enough sleep, moderation in drinking, and hopefully, quitting smoking. We focus on helping and inspiring men to improve or do more of those healthy things because those five things trigger if they’re unattended to, a lot of chronic health problems like heart disease, obesity, things that are largely preventable by being a little more proactive in your health. The foundation got created largely because of the vision of our Founding Chairman, Dr. Larry Goldenberg, who is renowned within the field of men’s urology, an Order of Canada winner, and numerous others.
He had a passion to want to be able to inspire and engage men in large numbers to be more proactive about their health because he knew from seeing them in his office that there were a lot of men who are unnecessarily unhealthy. By the time they got to his office, it was often pretty late to change. He could only influence one man at a time. I come from a background in communication in the private sector and had wanted to become a part of the not-for-profit sector. I had a chance meeting with Dr. Goldenberg to find out that he had started to create a website and some other seminars to try and reach more men. Out of that conversation and some subsequent research with men, we decided to partner up, build the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation from scratch in 2012, and put together online programs that men could access anytime, anywhere as long as they had a computer, a mobile, and a connection.
You mentioned those five behaviors and your experience over the years with the organization. Which of those five behaviors are men more able to pick up and hold on it for a sustainable basis? Which ones have proven harder for men?
What we find when we survey the men who use our website, DontChangeMuch.ca, which is full of tips and tools that are designed specifically for guys. It’s simple to engage and straightforward language. When we ask them, “What are the things they’re mostly doing?” We find nutrition and activity are the two top ones. Whether they’re finding the other one’s harder like getting enough sleep or moderating drinking or they gravitate more towards nutrition and activity, it’s hard to say. One of the wonderful things about having online information and talking to guys who use it is that it allows us to be able to focus or fine-tune the content that we’re putting out. For example, when we found out that men were saying they were using our nutrition and activity tips more and not as much as sleep, we increased some of our sleep blogs and our sleep information because it’s an amazing message. All you have to do is get more sleep and you improve your health. That’s got to be about one of the easiest things you can do, getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep so your body can do its natural repair that it does when we sleep.
Unfortunately, you’re probably competing with Netflix a lot in getting enough sleep. You’re up against something pretty big.
We’re also up against fathers or young children and all those demands. We’re also up against the stages of life where men in certain careers feel compelled to work many hours or they’re in jobs where they have to do meetings where time zones around the world. There’s lots of competition there. What we’re trying to say is sleep is becoming increasingly known as an important part of your body’s health. You need to get 7 to 8 hours of continuous sleep for your body to go fully through the processes of all the repairs and maintenance it does that only happen while you’re asleep. You can’t make up for it by having ten hours of sleep the next night. As often as you can, be aware that sleep is healthy.
I am interested in your impressions and some of the work that your organization has done. You’ve done a lot of work on the response to men’s health or the effect of the pandemic on men’s health. Will you be interested to share with our readers some of what you’ve found and what it means for your organization?
Like everybody in every organization, when COVID started to develop and it became apparent that we’re going to be going into a lockdown state, many of our organizations were caught by surprise. In one way or another, thousands of organizations have had to pivot to be relevant for their customers, for their employees, etc. In our case, we started at that point of lockdown by recognizing that we had all these men who were following us. We had a million visits to our website in 2019. There are about 120,000 men who signed up for a weekly health tip into their mailbox. We thought, “These men are going to need some help coping.” All of a sudden, we’re sitting at home and we’ve all experienced maybe not being able to work from home or the stress of being in a confined space and not going out and doing their normal things. Our team quickly pivoted the creation of our blog content that goes out every week and our social media to try and help people, our men and the families that might be with them to deal with being in a confined space.One of the easiest things to do to improve your health is to get enough sleep. Click To Tweet
How do you do little workouts when you can’t get to the gym? How do you manage stress when you’re feeling all these pressures when your children are always around? We did that as the first step in our COVID trying to do our bit in the COVID reality. As we came up every year, we have Men’s Health Week, the six days leading up to Father’s Day. We created that because we thought that Father’s Day is often a secondary day in the year. It’s often one that you think of as a family member, “What am I going to do for Father’s Day?” We wanted to use that opportunity to go back to what we started the podcast with us talking about the unnecessarily poor state of a lot of men’s health. We want to use the six days before Father’s Day as a point to make a rallying cry out to anyone anywhere, whether you’re a man or a family member, an employer that, “Men’s health is important. Please, pay attention. Do what you can do. Use our Don’t Change many websites for tips to try and improve men’s health.”
I was going to say as an organization, most of what you’re communicating, a lot of the advocacy work and the health promotion work you’re doing is already online, which is great. How much did you have to change that messaging or change the way you were getting that message out as a result of the pandemic?
We didn’t have to change the means. We used our three main means of connecting with men. The website, either by pushing out a paid search to target demographics that might be interested or organic search results. We do our email or subscriber list. Our subscriber list is not in your typical newsletter. It’s a weekly usable relevant health tip on nutrition, activity, sleep, drinking, and smoking. Social media, which we were very active on Instagram and Facebook. What we did is we had all those platforms operating. We had men following those platforms. What we recognized that we needed to do was change the content within some of those to help guys cope with either the stress or the isolation they were in.
You’ve done some work that came out about the impact of COVID on the mental health of fathers. I would be interested in learning more about what you found and what you think that means about the state of health for Canadian men.
It is a situation that many organizations face. What do we do next? What do we do that this lockdown and COVID situation is extending longer and there may be many forms of new normal? We had been hearing anecdotally through some of the men’s health organizations at different parts of the world that some fathers find this lockdown period was connecting them and they’re feeling closer to their children. The experiences that they’re getting out there are like that. This was all anecdotal. We thought it would be important. What we did is we did two different surveys of fathers across the country to find out whether this was a trend and whether this was the experience of more than a few fathers.
We surveyed a thousand men across Canada, and then we did focus groups with 45 men across Canada. It was quite quickly conducted in a four-week period. That has been concluded and out of that, we were pleasantly surprised by what we saw. In 2020, we made our theme, Fathers, and COVID: The Surprisingly Positive Effect of Lockdown on Fatherhood. It talks about how the lockdown has brought many fathers close to their children. Fathers want more time with their family post-COVID, that realization. They don’t want to return to the old normal. This as a new normal that they look forward to. Some are struggling with how they make that happen when everything returns to normal.
There are some positive impacts out of this, including 48% of fathers realizing and becoming more aware of their importance as a role as a father and 60% providing more companionships and guidance. These are good things from a health perspective because our experts tell us there are lots of evidence that fathers, along with their partner in the family, providing companionship, guidance, listening and being involved reduces the likelihood of negative behaviors in the kids. There is a better chance at better performance in school, more positive relationships with friends and peers, lower incidences of alcohol, and drug abuse. It’s more than enjoying and loving that time. It has a trickle-down benefit.
As a father that has been spending a lot of time with them during the lockdown, it’s good to hear that there are some trickle-down benefits. I certainly would be in that group that has enjoyed the increased amount of time that had been able to spend with my kids and family. It’s great that you’ve done the work to show that that’s the experience of a lot of men and a lot of fathers.
In a way, some are saying, “This has been a golden opportunity. I want to try and find ways as things keep getting back to make sure that I don’t lose that golden opportunity and retain parts of it.” Some have talked about quite significant changes. It may not be within reach of everybody. Some have talked about adjusting their work-life cadence so that they do have more time. When they spend that more time, they’ve learned that there are other ways of spending the time they didn’t spend before. Some do less talking, more listening to their kids, for example. Others have talked about that there old normal, especially with multiple kids that the children were involved in different activities that made the evenings busy doing those and they didn’t get much total family time sitting together having a meal. They are speculating that what they may do is have less of those outside activities and reduce them a bit in order to make for family time, for example, mealtime which is another important touchpoint that has been proven to create better behaviors in kids and reduce negative behaviors.
I want to talk a little bit more about the organization. It is a relatively new entrant into the National Health Foundation club or movement. Men’s Health Foundation has represented some important issues that you’ve highlighted. What has been the response to the organization in that Health Foundation community? Have you been identifying opportunities to partner and work with other organizations?
It’s been very positive. Prior to us forming the foundation, Dr. Goldenberg had already raised seed money to be able to research and build some organization that would engage men. I got the opportunity to go meet with the leaders in a lot of large health organizations like Heart and Stroke, Diabetes, ParticipACTION, and different organizations like that. I had two questions I asked as I did this research, “How did they view men’s health? If there was a separate NGO in the health space with men, what did they feel the gap that should fill?” Universally, they recognized that men should be communicated with, engaged, and given the information that’s relevant to men. Gender-specific communication is an important thing in engaging with people.
There wasn’t much out there for men, even with their organizations. It was difficult to try and focus on one gender or the other, or one culture or the other because there’s so much work overall. The second thing they said is they felt that if an organization was to be in the space, universally, I heard to focus on the lifestyles that will prevent chronic diseases rather than trying to come to an organization that further treats the chronic diseases. They felt there would be a lot more ROI on getting upstream. Since then, we feel supported. We were invited on to a group called The Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance of Canada, which is made up of the largest people like Heart and Stroke and Diabetes and these organizations. We’ve collaborated with them on a number of projects.Talk less to your kids. Listen to them more. Click To Tweet
I had the benefit of funding from the federal government and the Ontario government along the way. We got steady support over the years from the BC provincial government. We feel quite welcomed. I was expecting blowback on why man, but quickly people sense when you say, “How many men do you know in your life that are unnecessarily unhealthy? Do you think it would be good if we could get to them and get them to change their lifestyle behaviors?” It removes it from that masculinity discussion, “My uncle could use something like this.” I think that’s part of what makes it work.
It’s an interesting perspective on improving men’s health. There’s great work being done to change health research to better accommodate and better take into account the health of women. It takes pushing on both sides of the equation to move the health of Canadians forward.
What you’re talking about is dear to our chairman’s heart being a physician, a urologist. We’ve done some work to expand our activities to champion or call for more research on men’s health conditions, psychology, and health and to champion for more accessibility to resources for men to go to get support. For example, more training as doctors goes through their training cycle on men specific issues both physically and mentally. There are many things to do and you’ve touched on a very important one. As we grow, we hope to be able to influence more of those as people become more aware of men having specific needs and issues.
The issue of mental health has been one that has come to the forefront for all Canadians. How has your organization been involved and what is the perspective you take on encouraging mental health as a way of avoiding or supporting some of those chronic disease issues?
First of all, I speak to the statistics in suicide. Tragically, 80% roughly of suicides are men. Interestingly, men and women attempt suicide in about equal numbers, but men use methods or somehow are more determined to carry through the act much more often. People are crying out for help on both sides. The answers to these, as we know, are complex in terms of how do we help people that are in states of depression and anxiety? Fortunately, there are organizations like Anxiety Canada and the Canadian Mental Health Association that are deep into understanding these issues. In this case, Anxiety Canada has a fabulous and popular app that gives people feeling anxious, high anxiety, quick, easy tools to use based on proven methods. We try and partner to promote some of these things. On our side, we understand that a person’s mental health and state of anxiety is also affected by their general health.
Overall, people who are being proactive about their physical activity, what they’re eating, how much sleep they’re getting are often less prone to issues around anxiety or depression. By virtue of doing those, we’re hitting it directly, but we also give tips for guys on simple things to do in the realm of mindfulness or meditation. We’re talking about the simple act of when you’re feeling high anxiety or particularly depressed. Keep getting the message in to sit down, close your eyes, breathe deeply, hold the breath at the top and slowly exhale because it sends signals to your body that things are more under control. From there, we talk about other activities you can do. It’s an important topic. Men’s mental health, fortunately, is moving more into the public discussion. We’re associated with a website that was built at UBC called HeadsUpGuys, which is an online resource for guys in mental health. We’ll try and connect with that. As time goes forward, we will be doing more in this general area.
Perhaps very topical for world events is the issue of health disparities among racial groups. Certainly, in the United States, we’ve seen a lot of that through the COVID pandemic and some indications that that’s very much an issue here in Canada as well. From your perspective, how are we doing for men’s health for Canadians of color and racialized Canadians?
That’s a question that from my background, I’m not qualified to answer. I’m not trying to dodge you. What I can talk about is that our organization, we recognize the full spectrum whether it’s income, visible minority, culture, sexual orientation, and gender identity. All these factors are things that influence or both may pre-influence how healthy you are of say income or stigmatization. What we strive to do with our content is make it as much as possible universally relevant and bite-size so that people, depending on where they are in any of those spectrums can pick and choose the content that they feel is relevant for them. When we’ve done surveys on our users, we’re pleased to see that the users we have are spanning across all those areas, income levels, visible minorities, cultures, and sexual orientations. That’s very pleasing for us and we’re going to continue to try and be an inclusive umbrella as much as we can.
As an organization that was founded in Vancouver by Dr. Goldenberg, who I think almost everyone in the lower mainland would know who he is, you’ve undertaken a lot to have a national voice. What does that process had been like over the last number of years? How are you extending beyond the borders of British Columbia to speak to the rest of the country?
The job was made easier by starting with that vision of being online, a digital resource, and doing all our communication online. It allowed us to instantly envision and implement nationally by virtue of where we targeted initially our original website and social media awareness. We had to promote it through a lot of paid advertising until it started to develop a following. We were fortunate that we had funds that allowed us to take the content we’re producing on our website and promote it right across the country. It’s fairly cost-effective a lot of the time to do that online. We didn’t have the necessity to build clinics and other physical facilities across the country so that was a big help to the start.
When the federal government and the Ontario government were involved for a while, the funds that they provided allowed us to continually promote and engage online. Another thing was being able to attract ambassadors. We call them champions from different parts of Canada who provided extra visibility. Karl Subban, the super father of some NHL players that people know well, a celebrity chef and a Canadian that has a large following. These people are all our champions and they’re in different locations in Canada. We have a news release or some online event, they participate in their region and provides relevance. It’s been an exciting way to provide scale-up across the country without having the time and the money that it takes to have to build bricks-and-mortar.
One of the challenges that a lot of national health organizations face is the reality that healthcare is supremely local. People identify with their physicians. They identify with the hospitals and the clinics that they use. It’s one of the challenges that a lot of the national health organizations are facing. As an advocacy organization that’s doing health promotion, it sounds like you’ve done a lot to avoid or manage around that problem by speaking directly to individuals and keeping your message personal.
Yes, because our content is largely around taking ownership of being proactive yourself. Part of our mission is people that come for medical diagnosis and treatment. What is exciting to see is that during this pandemic, there has been a shift, maybe temporary or it will be a long-term of doctors and patients connecting outside of the office and doing some certain levels of diagnosis and prescriptions online. There’s a new service out of TELUS called Babylon Health. It had started before COVID that is gradually building up an online accessible room of doctors that you could engage with. That broadening and changing the way in which we normally go to see a doctor is a big help from our perspective, especially with men who are reluctant to go to a doctor unless they’ve hit a crisis.
It is a unique and interesting model that you have built. I appreciate you sharing a lot with us here. I have one final question. You’ve talked a lot about how men can look after their health and be their own advocates. What have you been doing during the pandemic to look after your health and to look after yourself?
As many others, I had to isolate myself. I was lucky that my work could continue because it is online. I feel fortunate about that, but I had a real struggle for days because I didn’t realize how much of my health activity, yoga, or going to the gym was based on going to these places. What I realized I had to do was establish clear routines and times in my house in which I did these things. I set a time each day that I would do my stream on online yoga. One of the good things for me is I now get up each morning and I have fifteen minutes where I sit down and meditate before I start my day.A person's mental health is also affected by their general health. Click To Tweet
It becomes a new habit for me. It’s one I’ve been wanting to do, but this is enshrined. For little workouts, I figured out using some of the things you could find online for home workouts. I found out ways to use what I had around the house as ways to do workouts. Finally, because of the luck of being able to go outside on my own and stay physically distant to walk and jog as frequently as I could. I found that by making those things, disciplining those things into my day, I schedule them into my meeting calendar helped a lot.
You’ve literally been walking the talk.
I enjoy it too.
Wayne, thank you so much for sharing the message of the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation with us. Thank you for sharing your own tips as well.
Thank you for having me on.
- Canadian Men’s Health Foundation
- Dr. Larry Goldenberg
- Instagram – Canadian Men’s Health Foundation
- Facebook – Canadian Men’s Health Foundation
- Heart and Stroke
- The Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance of Canada
- Anxiety Canada
- Canadian Mental Health Association
- Babylon Health
About Wayne Hartrick
After 25 years in PR and marketing, Wayne became the founding President of the CMHF. Wayne is a board member of the Chronic Disease Prevention Association of Canada, the UK based Global Action for Men’s Health, and in BC he is a trustee of the ARC Foundation, board member of the Global Civic Policy Society an examiner for the Public Relations Society and serves on the funding application review committee for the Foundation of Hope.