mens 1During an afternoon’s worth of inspiring stories crystalizing the need to get men more engaged in their health, one speaker perhaps shared the day’s most powerful moment, speaking from a podium at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, among an audience of esteemed guests, advocates and stakeholders.

John Kevin Hines recalled a day in San Francisco when he felt that he could no longer go on. Seeking just some simple positive interactions with other members of his community – an offer of encouragement or support – he instead got silence. Soon after, he found himself at the top of the Golden Gate Bridge, where, amidst his feelings of hopelessness, he hurled himself off the side. He said, upon his descent towards the water, he immediately regretted the decision; he had made a mistake.

He wanted to live.

Hines, who is bipolar and still faces regular suicidal thoughts, miraculously survived the fall, and he now uses his voice to educate about the reality of mental illness, the importance of talking honestly about it and the possibility of recovery. His story echoed the event’s sentiment that men who ignore their health are putting their lives, and possibly the health of their families and loved ones, at risk.

“Today, I travel the globe spreading a message of hope,” Hines said. “Why? Because we know it helps people heal.”

Friday’s White House Dialogue on Men’s Health was convened by The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, in collaboration with the Men’s Health Network and Disruptive Women in Health Care, which has been immersed in a host of topics that were prominent during the event, including mental health, technology, patient engagement and access to coverage.

mens 2The event featured remarks by White House Cabinet Secretary Broderick Johnson, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and Director of National Drug Control Policy, Michael Botticelli, who were honored as Disruptive Women’s January Men of the Month before the program began.

Johnson and Murthy focused on touting the benefits of the Affordable Care Act and reducing the amount of men who are uninsured. Of the 10.5 million people who are uninsured, six million are men. One of the challenges to increasing coverage will be changing the tone of the conversation and teaching men that they are not invincible.

“We need to elevate the conversation about men’s health in this country,” said Johnson, saying that these discussions need to take place in communities, living rooms kitchens, barbershops, and during sporting events, like the NFL playoffs. “We need to cultivate a dialogue about health that resonates, that is also sustainable.”

“We have a lot more to do if we want all men in this country, men who I think of really as our brothers, to be able to live a healthy and prosperous life,” said Murthy, who explained that despite their differences, men share common hopes, such as the hopes to live a full life, raise a family and pursue dreams. “When I think of us, what we can do together, you and I, by helping more men get covered, we can help put these hopes within the reach of men all across America. That’s fundamentally what coverage is about.”

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Like Hines, many of the speakers shared personal stories. One speaker, Kenneth Braswell, was reminded of his need to improve his health when his son, during the holidays, jokingly stuffed his shirt to simulate a belly, and walked into his dad’s office and said, “Daddy, this is you.”

Another speaker, Steven Avila, after experiencing lower back pain last year, went through a series of tests before he was ultimately diagnosed with testicular cancer at age 25. He’s now cancer free and credits his health coverage, which allowed him to pursue doctor’s appointments, as a reason for beating the disease.

Other speakers, some of whom included past and future Disruptive Women Men of the Month, talked about how sexual situations and the heart health of fellow students on their campus helped shaped their perspectives and guide their current professional aspirations.

Ramin Bastani, who wanted to find a better way to communicate about sexual health to future partners, developed a tool that more seamlessly allows people to find out the results of a health test by utilizing technology.

Jason Bellet, seeking to address the silent killer that is sudden cardiac death, has helped pioneer innovations to the stethoscope that improve amplification of heart sounds, record heart sounds to smart devices and allow them to be easily implemented into a person’s electronic health record.

Other speakers, including representatives from the NFL, talked about creating funny, compelling campaigns to develop and distribute health messaging towards men.

“I’m personally committed to do whatever I can do to foster a culture in which men are encouraged to be proactive about our health, without concerns of stigma or stereotypes, egos or other barriers,” Johnson said. “So let’s make today’s dialogue the start of a new phase in our collaboration.”

Like Cabinet Secretary Johnson and all the other men who participated in Friday’s Dialogue we at Disruptive Women are committed to men’s health and plan to continue to work to improve the state of men’s health. We look forward to future collaborations with HHS, the White House and others.

To view a video of the White House Dialogue on Men’s Health, click here.

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