2021-10-28 09:18:10

As China marked its national Men’s Health Day Thursday, the country’s medical experts called for greater awareness of men’s physical and mental health, issues rarely discussed openly. One health platform is helping them do just that.

The health care platform, aptly named He Health, has drawn millions of users since it was launched in 2019 by the LGBT-focused internet technology company BlueCity. Though it initially aimed to teach users about and provide services on sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, among gay and bisexual men, He Health has since expanded its services to promote awareness of men’s health irrespective of their sexual orientation.

“For a long time, the health care needs of men have been overlooked and problems like insufficient privacy, limited drug purchasing channels, and limited awareness of sexual health keeps escalating,” Xue Hui, director of medical affairs at He Health, told Sixth Tone.

Since July, He Health has also provided online consultations from a roster of doctors from China’s top hospitals for a fee of up to 200 yuan ($30). Revenues from the app reached over 15 million yuan in the second quarter of 2021, a 135% increase from the same period last year, according to BlueCity.

While online platforms have granted men access to information on topics they previously shied away from, experts like doctors like Wang Yaotang say it’s important for health care workers to start a candid public conversation — both within the medical institutions and with patients — on topics such as prostate cancer.

Over recent years, the country has seen a rise in diseases such as prostate cancer among men amid changes in lifestyle and increased life expectancy. In 2015, the overall incidence rate of prostate cancer in China was 10.23 per 100,000 population, according to the national cancer center. In 2020, it increased to 15.6 per 100,000, including more than 50,000 deaths.

“The prostate is sometimes referred to in Chinese as a man’s ‘life gland,’” Wang, the president of Qingdao Yuren Hospital in the eastern Shandong province, told Sixth Tone, adding he helps raise awareness around screening, early detecting, and treating prostatitis. “There should be an emphasis on men’s health in the wake of the three-child policy. The quality and quantity of male sperm is getting worse, and the fertility rate is getting lower every year.”

Chen Han, deputy chief physician of the Department of Clinical Psychology, Shanghai Mental Health Center, said men are often reluctant to speak freely or seek medical advice compared with women. He said the traditional mindset of men being stronger and the perception of seeking help as a sign of weakness can take its toll on their mental and physical wellbeing.

“In many instances, even if they suffer from depression, they don’t necessarily go see a doctor,” Chen told Sixth Tone, adding one-third of his patients are men.

According to Chen, the majority of his patients are teenagers weighed down by academic pressure or personal relationships involving peers or parents, followed by white-collar workers. To ensure the psychological wellbeing of children and teens, some schools in China have now started mental health education and provide designated counselors.

“(Men) generally have so-called flaws in verbal expression, which reduces their ability to release their negative emotions and pressures,” Chen said. “That’s why men are more likely to die by suicide than women.”

But Chen believes that the popularization of science and easy access to information online has heightened awareness of physical and mental conditions among the public — campaigns such as Men’s Health Day, initiated in 2000 and marked on Oct. 28 every year, have helped, too.

Contributions: Liang Jiaqi; editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: People Visual)