On August 20th, The Dudes Club hosted its 4th Annual Men’s Health Fair at Vancouver Native Health Society, in the Downtown Eastside. It’s an annual opportunity to showcase the innovative work of the Dudes Club (www.dudesclub.ca) but, more importantly, to provide a welcoming environment for marginalized men to access critical health screening measures and learn more about health and wellness. This year, approximately 120 men were present many of whom were able to access prostate cancer screening (thanks to Dr. Chris Zappavigna from Vancouver General Hospital), screening for sexually transmitted infections (thanks to Vancouver Coastal Health outreach nurses), liver fibroscan (thanks to the Hep C program team at VNH), and blood pressure/cardiovascular assessments (thanks to the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation). For men who would normally not present to the clinic for preventative screening measures, this health fair is breaking down the barriers and hesitations that men face when considering their health.
While men were waiting to line up for the various health stations, there was a room set up with information booths about liver and cardiovascular health. Men were also invited to participate in evaluation research of the Men’s Depression and Suicide Network at UBC, generously funded by Movember Canada. Having laid back discussions about mental health issues among men is what the Dudes Club has been doing since it began in 2010.
The stigma and societal expectations of masculinity are major hurdles that men have to overcome to share their struggles of mental or emotional issues with a health professional. Over the years, so many of the man have told us that they don’t feel comfortable telling their doctor or nurse about these issues. Much of that has been addressed by flipping the traditional medical paradigm where for years patients have been expected to come to places where health providers feel safe to practice their profession. These places are often sterile and intimidating, especially to at-risk or marginalized populations who face complex issues with housing, poverty, trauma, multiple health conditions, substance abuse and the ongoing impact of colonization. This health fair attempts to highlight the Dudes Club approach, which brings health to where men feel safe. This novel philosophy of health engagement for men has allowed them to feel more empowered and supported in the process of opening up about their health. In fact, over the years, men have shared their stories of emotional trauma with the group and been received with open arms and a shoulder to lean on by fellow Dudes Club members.
This non-threatening approach mixed in with activities (bingo, poker, sports trivia) and services (free hair cuts, social worker and nursing on-site) that men appreciate has become the winning formula for a program with very humble beginnings. The Dudes Club evaluation has shown rather convincingly that safety, trust and brotherhood are the unique ingredients that have made this program so successful for over five years.
As the Health Fair rounded up for yet another successful event, our highly esteemed Musqueam elder, Henry Charles, invited the men to share a nutritious barbecue feast. Henry helps ground our meetings with a focus on the aboriginal medicine wheel and traditional teachings. Men streamed away with a Dudes Club t-shirt and bag to carry some of the health information swag they had acquired at the health fair. As a sign of success, many men who had for years been disengaged with health care inquired when the next Dudes Club meeting is and if they might be able to join the clinic to see one of our physicians. These men had seen that taking care of themselves in a proactive, holistic way is just as courageous as anything else a “real man” can do these days. The Dudes Club brotherhood continues to grow thanks to events like the Annual Men’s Health Fair.