Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, and gender stereotypes are for a different, less egalitarian era. But one stereotype about men really is true: as a whole, males are much more likely than females to avoid doctors, skip out on routine screenings, and pass on preventative care. Men often don’t see a doctor until real damage is done.
In fact, men are so inclined to skip out on physicals, tests, flu shots, and the like, that a worldwide charity called the Movember Foundation sprang up in 2003 to draw awareness to the health issues faced by men such as prostate and testicular cancer, conditions that are often highly treatable when caught early.
The need for opening up dialogue on men’s health remains great in America. Dr. Ridwan Shabsigh, head of the International Society of Men’s Health and a urologist in New York City, told NBC News at least 40% of American men in their 40s have never had a cholesterol test and one-third skip out on an annual physical.
Eye-opening research by two Princeton economists, Angus Deaton and Anne Case, show that death rates for middle-aged whites in the U.S. are rising dramatically not because of chronic, perennial killers like heart disease and cancer, but rather suicide, drug overdoses, and alcoholic liver disease.
Cultural norms that encourage boys to “tough it out” and “walk off” the pain extend into adulthood, leading many men to shrug off not just physical pain but also psychological problems such as depression and anxiety. The Mayo Clinic notes that these ailments are often undiagnosed in men, who frequently self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, risky sexual activity, and other unhealthy coping mechanisms. This has the unfortunate effect of layering physical risk on top of poorly treated mental conditions, a toxic combination.
Too many men won’t initiate conversation about their health and well-being. Whether rooted in notions of masculinity or downright fear, this self-imposed culture of silence creates the worst kind of risk: that with no possibility of return, and for no good reason.
Employers can make a difference by establishing wellness programs that will help the men (and women!) who work for them stay healthy (which keeps the bottom line healthy, too.)
Loved ones can help by opening up a dialogue. Even a simple, “Hey, how have you been feeling?” can be enough to start the ball rolling.
Shannon Hudspeth, SPHR