Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)


Social Work


Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work

First Advisor

Juanne Clarke

Advisor Role

Dissertation Committee Member


Although there has been more interest in home health care, self-care, or "lay" initiatives in health care in recent years, most research is from the perspective of the researcher. The researcher names and defines the important issues and also generally makes use of structured questionnaires that force responses into predetermined categories. My research project was a departure from this approach. Grounded in the interpretive paradigm, this research sought to better understand the ways in which men and women experience their physical and mental health and the methods they employ to augment or maintain their health. Another purpose of the research was to develop grounded theory since there is no framework to guide self-care research. Further, this research sought to describe the implications of the findings for policy and social work practice. Because men and women generally are not familiar with the term "self-care", the research question was "How do you take care of your physical and mental health?" The population I selected was undergraduate students. These young adults were at the beginning of adulthood. The behaviours that the students utilized may be with them for the rest of their lives. The study revealed that the issues salient to the men and women were different, though not exclusive to each gender. The themes that were described by the men were achievement, friendship, and intimacy. For the women, the themes discussed most were appearance, worry, and talk. These categories were unlike those that are generally found in the "health" research literature. The students indicated. that their definition of the "self" differed from that generally found in "health" research and writing. In mainstream health research, health may only refer to physical status or occasionally "mental" health. This study showed that students did not have the same understanding of "mental" health and some did not know the term. Some students also spoke at length of mental health issues such as worry and stress rather than physical health. Overall, the students‘ self-definitions were holistic comprising physical, sexual, emotional, moral, intellectual, and spiritual aspects. Unlike most health research, which focuses on bio/medical and behavioural causes of illness, socio/environmental factors, specifically the socially prescribed behaviours appropriate to each sex, created health. opportunities or barriers to healthy behaviour. The students reported that "care" was determined by the degree to which the individual accepted stereotyped notions of gender role appropriate to their sex. They identified a paradox. For men, to take care of themselves by resisting the illness and fatigue-inducing pressure to achieve, was abnormal. It was abnormal for women to accept their body shape and weight and to resist the pressure to be constantly vigilant with respect to appearance. Some students suggested that "care" was not static but changed over time. Further, they pointed out that "care" was shaped by socio-environmental factors: that is the ability of friends, girlfriends, family, teachers, health care professionals, professors, organizations and institutions to respond to the needs of the student. The study identified a number of ideologies and specific communication styles related to gender that restricted the "health" opportunities of men and women. Men had to be active, to "do everything", "to do it well", "to do it quickly" and to "do it alone". They more frequently enrolled in faculties with heavy workloads, those traditionally associated with men, such as engineering and the physical sciences. A few men spoke of messages to initiate and to be outgoing. Drinking was one way for a shy man to fit this image. Others described pressure to be sexually active. Some were caught between conflicting messages to be sexually active or to remain a virgin. Some men coped with this by: "slutting around", to having platonic relationships with women, and resisting the pressure by not dating and spending time with male friends. Some men also indicated that it was difficult for them to know their feelings and sometimes described strategies to avoid feeling. Though there is common notion that women have no difficulty talking, this study showed that women's ability to communicate verbally is restricted by social conventions. Evidence of the circumscribed nature of women's speech was in their difficulty being open about sexuality with their mothers, in the incapacity to express anger, in their inability to stand up to others who might take advantage of them. Though women are thought to share intimate thoughts and feelings with their women friends, the women identified a number of barriers to women's friendships such as gossip in the residences and back—stabbing. Women also had learned that it was important to look good. Many were dissatisfied with aspects of their appearance. The range of activities the women undertook with respect to their appearance was a testament to the time and energy devoted to this past—time. Evidence from this investigation also challenged the notion that men are independent. When it came to the peer group, for some men it was very difficult to say "no". Therefore this study indicates that there should be a re-thinking of relational theory which posits that women struggle with separateness while men struggle with connection. This study indicated that men had difficulty separating themselves from their male peers. As I compared the themes the men and women mentioned, for each, I could find a person of the same sex who disproved the stereotype. I could find members of both sexes who exhibited traits more prevalent in the other. Therefore, I determined that two overlapping models which contained all six themes was the best way to envision the potentiality of men and women. The recommendations included sharing the findings with students in order to increase their awareness and facilitate a more conscious process of personal choice. Based on student responses, I also identified high school teachers, student medical and counselling services, coaches, the media, and the OSAP as additional and important targets for health promotion education. One discovery of this research which is important for social work is that the medium which is most often used for therapy is talk and this gives women an advantage over men. Talking is a central part of the experience of the women that I interviewed, including talk about feelings. The men may have been more comfortable dealing with feeling through the body: massage, and physical exercise. They also made use of music to alter their emotions. Consideration should be given to incorporating other forms of therapy such as physical activity for both men and women. Men would be using resources which are more comfortable for them and women would have the benefit of learning to trust their bodies and their physical power to a greater extent. Social workers, working in university setting could try to influence for the better, the organizational features which contribute to the restriction of choices that the men and women mentioned.

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