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‘He refuses to go to the doctor’ – The Psychology of Men’s Health

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It is a general rule that men avoid going to the doctor at all costs, and only when brought to their knees by an illness would the consideration be given. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2011), “men and doctors don’t mix; men are 80 percent less likely than women to use a regular source of health care.”{{more}}

Other research shows that half of men aged 18 to 50 don’t even have a regular source of health care. In fact, one national survey revealed that a third of men in that age group hadn’t had a check-up in more than a year, and 40 per cent had never had their cholesterol checked.

The truth is many men go to the doctor only when they feel sick or have a medical emergency – and that’s not nearly as often as they should. Regularly scheduled medical care is a big part of preventing cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Experts believe the failure of men and doctors to meet on a regular basis could be one reason why women live longer than men, and why men are more likely to get and die of serious diseases.

Reasons men stay away from the doctor:

Experts believe there are culturally significant explanations for men’s reluctance to seek medical treatment. A lot of their explanations and reasons highlight and support their display of machismo. One main reason is that they’re not conditioned to get preventive care the way women are. Whereas girls in their teens and twenties are advised to regularly see a gynecologist, men are left somewhat to their own devices once they stop going to a pediatrician.

Another possible justification is fear, either of finding out that something is wrong or of showing vulnerability. Some men say that stereotypes about what’s “manly” have created a myth that going to the doctor or getting sick is a sign of weakness. According to one study by researchers at Rutgers, for example, men who strongly endorsed old-school notions of masculinity – the ideal man being a strong, silent type who doesn’t complain about pain – were only half as likely as other men to seek preventive health care. Part of that, experts say, may be due to men’s fear of giving up control to their doctors. But taking a proactive approach to your health is actually a great way to assert control.

What should men expect at the doctor?

Ages 20s and 30s:

o Review of general health; (The doctor will ask about lifestyle habits, such as sex, smoking, drug use, alcohol consumption, diet and exercise)

o Examination of the head and neck, focusing on the eyes and ears, and lymph nodes in the neck

o Blood pressure test

o Check of heart with stethoscope

o Measurement of height and weight

o Determine body mass index (BMI)

o Examination of the abdomen for hernias

o Questions about changes in the scrotum, genital and anal regions

o Testicular exam, if there’s a concern, or a history of testicular problems

o Urine test or swab if patient is at high risk of having a sexually transmitted disease such as HIV or hepatitis

o Checks of cholesterol levels through fasting lipid profile, if at high risk for heart disease

o Screening for depression using standardized form, if there’s an indication that the individual may be depressed

TIP: In a man’s 20s and 30s, the focus is on talking about lifestyle and habits, and encouraging individuals to make changes such as exercising, eating healthier and quitting smoking to prevent the onset of illness.

40s:

o Colon screening (fecal occult blood test, colonoscopy), if at higher risk of colorectal cancer; for example, if a parent or sibling had it

o Fasting lipid profile now done at least every three years

50s

o Annual or biannual colon screening (fecal blood, colonoscopy)

TIP: It may be recommended that men get a routine prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test.

65 and Up:

o A one-time bone mineral density test at age 65 – sooner if there are risk factors – and thereafter when the doctor thinks it necessary. (Daily vitamin D and calcium supplements are recommended to prevent osteoporosis.)

TIP: Routine rectal exams may be suggested, but talk to your physician if you have health concerns or symptoms that you think warrant one.

How to get your guy to the doctor?

– Warm your partner to the idea of thinking about his health before you suggest he make the leap to visiting a doctor.

– Play it straight. Tell your partner: “I’m your wife/girlfriend, I love you, and I want to make sure you take care of your health.”

– Appeal to your partner’s manhood. “Guys equate health with physical and sexual performance.” Encourage him to understand that regularly visiting a doctor helps him maintain his body in top form.

– Talk to your partner about health-related articles you’ve come across. We see a big jump in people coming in to see us after there’s public awareness on any issue.

Dr Miller is Health Psychologist at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital.

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