National Men’s Health Week is recognized annually during the week preceding Father’s Day. This year, and every year that it has been celebrated, from June 15-21 the mission is “to heighten the awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys.” The stereotype of men as strong, silent types who suffer heroically is pervasive in the U.S., and this results in men and boys visiting doctors less often than they should for both treatment and preventative care. Here are a few ways to prioritize men’s health during National Men’s Health Week.
Recognize barriers to treatment
There are barriers that could prevent men in the U.S. from seeking preventative care and treatment for illness.
- Mental: Men may not want to admit that they need to seek help. They may be concerned about symptoms or embarrassed by the idea of being examined. Even an annual preventative exam may bring up fears of finding that something is wrong, even if a man is feeling strong and healthy.
- Social: Seeking treatment may be viewed as weakness or being less than a man. In the U.S., men face societal pressure to have a rock-hard stomach and a stiff upper lip. To admit they are feeling poorly can be like admitting failure to measure up.
- Racial/cultural: Some cultures view medical doctors with suspicion and prefer to treat themselves or rely on other forms of medicine rather than go to the doctor. For Latino men, the current climate in the U.S. surrounding immigration may reveal bias on the part of the doctors, nurses, and clinicians, so they may choose to avoid confronting that altogether. For speakers of other languages, men may have difficulty finding a doctor they can understand, and they may not trust anyone to work as a translator for them.
- Geographical: There are fewer healthcare resources in rural areas. Men in these areas are more likely to work in blue-collar industries or as laborers (farm or factory), which means access to regular, reliable medical care is especially important due to the dangerous nature of some of these occupations.
- Financial: Financial barriers are closely related to geographical barriers in that even though the Affordable Healthcare Act has made healthcare more affordable, there are limited resources available for subsidized health plans, especially in states that have decided not to expand Medicaid. This means that although previously uninsured men may now have insurance, there may be no doctors in their area. Those doctors that are in the area may only take a limited number of subsidized health plans.
Understanding the way disease works in the body, including what causes it and how to prevent it, is crucial to maintaining good health. An annual physical can help men identify early warning signs of things like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. In each of these, an early diagnosis offers the best chance of a full recovery or successful treatment. Doctors can also help to design interventions and lifestyle changes to help men avoid many preventable diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes.
Prioritize loved ones
A man taking care of his health isn’t just taking care of himself. Even though four out of ten households have women as the primary breadwinner, the majority of families in the U.S. rely primarily on the male head of household for their income. But it’s not all about the money. As the National Fatherhood Initiative points out, children who live in households with a father present do better across all measures – social, emotional, educational, intellectual – than those who grow up in homes without a dad. In many cases, even if the father is not living in the same household, his presence in the lives of his children has a significant impact on their chances for success. A man who takes care of himself isn’t selfish. Staying healthy to be there for friends and family for a lifetime is a generous, giving act.
View pain as a red flag
“No pain, no gain” has been the battle cry in gyms across the country, but in reality, pain is the body’s way of signaling that something isn’t quite right. There is a difference between the ache you feel in the lower back after a good legs workout and the shooting, radiating pain of sciatica. A headache and a migraine stemming from injury to the trigeminal nerve are two entirely different things with two very different treatment protocols. A quick visit to the doctor to discuss any changes in pain levels for a pre-existing condition or any new pain can help to address any concerns while keeping track of changes.
Examine family history
National Men’s Health Week is a great time to put together a family health history for both sides of the family. Think of it as another way to take care of the family by protecting their health. Many health conditions can be prevented if a clear family history is known. For example, a family history of Type 2 diabetes may indicate that changes in diet are warranted before there are any concerns. A simple online tool for family health history can help gather all of the information that is needed. This also makes it easy to share the information with other family members.
Keeping yourself healthy is of vital importance, not just for you but also for your family and friends. What steps do you need to take during National Men’s Health Week to protect your health?
Image by JD Hancock via Flickr