Or Just Plain Scared?
By Caroline Tapp-McDougall
The other evening I attended a talk given by nutritionist Leslie Beck. Among other pearls of wisdom, she spoke of the differences between men and women in both managing their personal health care and taking preventive action.
Unfortunately, the norm for a lot of men seems to be to ignore symptoms, and take action mostly in the face of extreme pain or disability. According to an article in Men’s Health, guys are 24 per cent less likely than women to have visited a doctor in the past year, and 24 per cent more likely to be hospitalized for pneumonia—a condition that could have been prevented by immunization. Perhaps it is no wonder that men die six years younger than women.
Leslie’s talk got me thinking about a 60-year-old male friend who, despite increasing pain from playing squash like a 25-year-old, refuses help. He is a very clever , well-educated man, but is stubbornly convinced he does not have time to seek treatment and that nothing can be done anyway. Other than his stoic heritage why is he on the grin-and-bear-it bandwagon?
In a Men’s Health article called “The ‘Superman Syndrome’ ”: Why men are reluctant to pursue preventative care , author Jill Shuman explains that women manage to schedule and attend appointments much more efficiently than men for a number of reasons and offers some answers. When clinic hours overlap with work hours, she says, many men give work priority. Her research shows that men believe they will be considered weak if they request or take time off. And, interestingly, waiting room time is a key indicator of the care they will search out in future. If a man has waited more than 30 minutes in a non-emergency situation, it will often be next to impossible to entice him back again. And thanks to what can be called the “suck it up factor” common in many cultures, men seem to learn from an early age to play down pain because “boys don’t cry” or must “take
one for the team.”
Men also tend to be more uncomfortable than women with sharing their health information to solve problems. Not surprisingly, a 2013 report by Health Canada suggests that men are less likely to have a regular medical doctor and to have a mental health consultation, and more often report daily smoking and binge drinking. They also perform preventive self-examinations less frequently than women. Fewer than 10 per cent of men report being taught testicular self-examination; by comparison, almost 65 per cent of women report receiving instruction in breast self-examination.
Here is what experts think might help to loosen up the “what I don’t know won’t hurt me” approach. First, warm up with a lighter discussion about overall well-being and, to encourage openness on difficult topics, give them relevant health-related articles.
Next, play it straight by explaining that early intervention is best: Blood pressure and diabetes are good examples. Talk about the concern of loved ones. Appealing to their manhood works with some, as men often equate health with physical and sexual performance. To get his buy-in, encourage him to make his own health care appointments rather than allowing a family member to so; point out that this gives him control over keeping his body in top shape.
Lastly, given that female health professionals outnumber their male counterparts, assure male clients that female health professionals are trained and comfortable doing physicals and caring for men. If he is not convinced, the College of Physicians and Surgeons in your province can help him find a male doctor who is taking new patients.
To learn more about men’s health, check out our website at www.rehabmagazine.ca.
Caroline Tapp-McDougall, Publisher