Unfortunately, men often adopt a ‘last resort’ approach to seeking professional help – only seeking help when long lasting damage has occurred, the time for effective intervention has passed, or indeed the outcome is terminal with tragic consequences for the individual concerned as well as their friends and family.
Studies have shown that men are less healthy than women and have a lower life expectancy. Biology provides only a partial explanation for this; lifestyle is also a significant factor. Men are more likely than women to drink alcohol above recommended levels, smoke cigarettes and eat a poor diet. Men are generally less physically active at the level that results in health benefits and therefore suffer increased levels of obesity.
Evidence suggests that the health of men and boys is also linked to the settings in which they lead their day-to-day lives. This applies at the overarching level of community and the physical environment, as well as at the more specific level of school, workplace and social setting.
Men’s reluctance to seek help is an underlying cause of their poor use of primary health services. Embarrassment leads many men to delay seeking help with prostate disease, for example as intimate examinations are often perceived as a particular threat to the male image. Many want to appear strong, independent and in control in front of a GP.
A lack of familiarity with the health system may also be a factor. Women are much more likely to use health services routinely – for contraception, pregnancy, childbirth and for their children’s health. When they are ill, they are more likely to know how to access services, and which services to use, and to feel more comfortable with a healthcare professional.
One of the key challenges in helping to address men’s health issues will be to reverse the belief that help-seeking is synonymous with weakness, and to portray good health maintenance and prompt help-seeking as part of being a strong man. Men also need to be given health information in ways they can easily relate to and essential health information must be freely available to health professionals, the community, and men themselves.
In terms of service development, the promotion of public health, a focus on early intervention and illness prevention would have a major impact on preventable illnesses with the potential for men to benefit greatly. Organisations must take positive action to ensure their service is accessible and available to men.
The new year will see the launch of “Men Talking Productions” in Wales, an innovative production talking about men’s health. The co-founders Dominic Rai and Richard Gunning plan to bring the production to rugby clubs initially, and then will take the show further afield in a bid to get men to think about their own health. The production will use inspiring real life stories and humor to engage the male population.
Sadly Wales lacks a clear directive and measurement framework for meeting men’s health needs. The Welsh Government must begin long term thinking around men’s health needs to change the situation for the better. But until then, I’d like to challenge men to make a new year’s resolution to start taking care of their health now before problems arise; or if you are worried about an aspect of your health, however embarrassing you feel it may be – seek professional advice. A popular resolution is to plan to exercise more often, and with all the protection it affords against heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, memory loss, colon cancer, fractures and depression – that has to get men exercising more.
- Visit your GP now – get health worries checked instead of leaving it
- Drink less alcohol – alcohol related deaths are increasing
- Eat more fruit and vegetables – reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer
- Walk or cycle instead of taking the car – an easy way to take more exercise
- Get your blood pressure checked – to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke
- Quit smoking – reduce your risk of lung disease
- Testicular or urinary problems – seek professional advice