According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 2 men are diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, compared to 1 in 3 women. Lung, prostate, and colorectal cancer are the leading causes of cancer deaths amongst men. On average, statistics show that men die nearly four years earlier than women. Besides concerning statistics around physical health, we see similar trends in mental health reports. For instance, 1 in 3 new fathers are concerned about mental health issues and three times as many men die from suicide as compared women.
These statistics are worrying, however, once we understand the common misconceptions and issues surrounding men’s health, we can better address them.
Why should we treat men’s health issues differently from women?
The short answer is: men and women are different. Furthermore, every body is different. Men face different challenges in healthcare from women. This can be attributed to a whole host of reasons – cultural, societal, and personal. Paying attention to the longevity gap between men and women – a gap that has continued to widen despite advances in medicine – might prove useful in busting these misconceptions and challenges thus improving the state of affairs in men’s health.
The challenge facing men’s health
A combination of biological, social, and behavioural factors contribute to the lag men experience in better health habits compared to their female counterparts.
Although men can’t change their biological make-up or external factors such as work stress that affect them on a daily basis, they can improve their mindsets towards cultivating better habits when it comes to their health. Unhealthy patterns around ‘macho-ness’ can prove detrimental in the long run.
For instance, healthcare issues become harder to fix when they aren’t actively sought out or checked for. As a general rule of thumb, annual check-ups are recommended, even if you don’t feel sick. However, men are usually reluctant to make medical check-ups a routine part of their lives.
Some of the health conditions men are much more likely to face include heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and prostate cancer. And, as it is with health conditions, the longer you wait to find out, the tougher it becomes to seek and attain successful treatment. Early detection can help with lowering the mortality rate.
Common misconceptions about men’s health
Misconception 1: Men cannot get breast cancer.
Although women are much more likely to get breast cancer, there’s no saying that men aren’t at risk too. A family history of breast cancer is highly associated with the increased risk. The two inherited genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, lead to the majority of hereditary breast cancer.
Misconception 2: Men’s health has no effect on reproduction.
If you’re planning on having children, the health of the sperm will affect the baby. Smoking, excessive drinking, steroid use and sexually-transmitted infections (STI) are all contributors to not being able to produce healthy sperm. Good lifestyle habits are necessary for successful and healthy reproduction.
Misconception 3: Men don’t need regular check-ups like women do.
Gender doesn’t play a role here – everyone needs regular check-ups and appointments. It’s crucial that men begin to see this as important as well. Developing proactiveness towards your own health is a step in the right direction.
What steps can men and society take towards destigmatisation?
Oftentimes, its in our social support systems and relationships where we learn most from, so the best thing men can do is to cultivate healthier relationships and stronger support networks. It may even help to form close contacts with the same gender, as it will create a safer space for healthier conversations around physical and mental well-being. Giving importance to good habits and regular health check-ups can also make an impact on how men see themselves and their health.
As it takes two hands to clap, the fight to destigmatise will also require the efforts of not only men but everyone else as well. What are some of the ways we can begin this journey?
- Education: By running mental health literacy campaigns and raising public awareness around the issue, more individuals will be made aware of the misconceptions and need for greater attention.
- Support Networks: These aid in bolstering confidence and courage in peer-to-peer conversations and relationships.
A small change can lead to ripple effects so hopefully, over time, we’ll be able to see positive changes take hold in society.
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