Changing men’s attitudes to health

Amanda Lyons

31/10/2019 4:08:28 PM

As Movember gets underway, the campaign is aiming to get men to take more control of their health and visit the GP more often.

Movember’s Sam Gledhill.
Movember’s Global Director for Testicular Cancer, Sam Gledhill, wants to encourage men to take greater control of their health and visit the GP more often.

‘She’ll be right’, ‘I’m fine’, ‘It’s not a big deal’ – these are phrases men often use to dismiss health concerns, and avoid a visit to their GP.
This is why they that can be seen on the 45 tombstones erected by Movember, the men’s health campaign, on the steps of the State Library in Victoria, representing the average number of men who die from prostate cancer every five days.
According to Movember’s Global Director for Testicular Cancer, Sam Gledhill, regular check-ups with a GP are particularly important in the detection of this disease.
‘Very often, there are no symptoms for a serious physical illness such as prostate cancer – routine check-ups are essential to detect if anything is up,’ he said.
‘If it’s detected early, there is a 98% chance of survival beyond five years. If detected late, this chance of survival drops significantly.’
But new research commissioned by Movember on Australian men’s attitudes towards their health has found three in four men are still likely to avoid visiting the GP when they have a health concern.
According to Dr James Antoniadis, GP and psychodynamic psychotherapist, dominant cultural beliefs around masculinity are often central to male resistance to doctor’s visits.
‘There is a sense that what makes somebody manly equates to their ability to be strong, a provider, capable, all of those sort of things, which are really about not being vulnerable,’ he told newsGP.
‘I think that’s the main reason men are reluctant to go to the doctor and take on the sick role, or even be at risk of being labelled as sick – having a disease or a problem makes them seem to be less invulnerable, which is the desirable trait amongst [men].’
Over half of the men surveyed in Movember’s study felt that, rather than visit the doctor, they could self-manage their health concern, or that it would go away on its own.
Additional reasons for avoiding the GP included:

  • Too busy (20%)
  • Couldn’t be bothered (30% of men aged 18–34)
  • Embarrassment (7%)
 The survey also asked men about the reasons they did choose to visit the GP, with only 35% having a health check at least once a year, and one in six consulting GPs for advice on staying healthy.
Movember28Oct19-Tombstones-hero.jpgMovember’s tombstones show phrases men often use as reasons to avoid going to the doctor for health concerns.

Movember Country Director Rachel Carr is keen to facilitate change for men in this area.
‘On average, men in Australia die four years earlier than women and one of the reasons for this is that men are less likely to seek help,’ she said.
‘This Movember, we want to start conversations with men and change attitudes about taking care of their health – including getting regular check-ups.’
While Movember is working to change wider social attitudes towards masculinity and health, Dr Antoniadis believes such a large mission is beyond the scope of individual doctors.
‘As a medical profession, we can try to break down some of the barriers, but we’re really pushing against a whole lot of social ideas about what it is to be a man, and they’re much harder to change,’ he said.
‘It really isn’t within the remit of the medical profession to do that, that’s more at the cultural, educational level.’
In thinking about how to get more men along to the doctor, Dr Antoniadis highlights the way in which female patients tend to have more regular GP contact because of appointments for screening or fertility issues.
‘We book women in for Pap smears, and we send out reminders they’re due for a breast examination, and it becomes a procedural thing,’ Dr Antoniadis said.
‘Whereas for men, there’s this nebulous idea that you go for a check-up once a year, but rarely do we book those in for the patient, send them a reminder, maybe even give them the blood test certificate in advance so they can have their test and then come along and discuss it.
‘So it then becomes up to the patient to think about all these things, overcome their resistances, book in and go through the rigmarole.’
As a strategy to boost men’s attendance at general practice, Dr Antoniadis recommends GPs take a similar approach with male patients, as this still operates within existing cultural paradigms while lifting much of the psychological burden of healthcare maintenance.
‘We have to say, “This is the nature of masculinity”, and devise systems that work within that,’ he said.
‘So like a horse whisperer knows which direction the horse is likely to go, and then works with that in order to facilitate whatever they want the horse to do, we go with it rather than against it.
‘The medical profession needs to start thinking about how to try to work with men, be proactive so they aren’t left to their own devices to book things. Because if they call – “I think I might be sick, I think I need a check-up”, that’s admitting vulnerability.
‘Whereas if the doctor calls, it says something like, “I’m just going to go because the doctor said”.
‘I think that will help a large percentage of the men who don’t go to the doctor, to actually get around that.’

masculinity Men’s health Movember Prostate cancer

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