Conversations about gender inequalities usually revolve around women’s struggles – and rightfully so. But that doesn’t mean that being a man is necessarily easy. Boys who are taught to not cry and “man up,” grow up to be adults who don’t care about their health. Men are more likely to skip annual check-ups, hold back information from their physicians, and ignore early signs of health problems. How did we get here and what can we do to change it?
A national survey published by Cleveland Clinic shows how widespread the phenomenon is. According to the study, only about a third of men will see a doctor without trying to first “tough it out”. But that’s not all – of men who do visit the doctor, 20% admitted to not being completely honest in treatment. Men admitted to withholding information because they felt embarrassed and uncomfortable and didn’t want to feel judged.
This is a major issue because regular, basic check-ups can quite literally save lives. A key problem with waiting for symptoms to become so severe that not treating them is no longer an option, is that there isn’t always a correlation between how you feel on the outside and what is going on inside. Hypertension is a good example. The leading cause of death among American men is heart disease. A heart-related condition like high blood pressure can be managed through medication and lifestyle changes. But in order to treat the condition, we must first be aware of its existence. Hypertension has no symptoms to wait for, which is how it got the name the “silent killer.” Without routine doctor visits, you simply won’t know that you have the condition – until it’s too late.
The most dramatic consequence of men’s reluctance for treatment is found in mental health: In 2019, nearly 80% of Americans who took their lives were male. Depression is a serious risk factor in suicide, yet it is often overlooked in men. First, because men are less likely to seek help, and second, because their depression sometimes manifests itself through symptoms like fatigue and anger, rather than sadness.
What’s more, the survey shows that men are particularly uncomfortable speaking with a doctor about intimate problems, such as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and erectile dysfunction (ED). Besides being a problem on its own, ED may be a sign of a larger problem, such as diabetes. In fact, diabetes increases the chance of ED in men by three times. As for STDs, beyond the need to find suitable treatment for people who carry a sexually transmitted disease, it is important to diagnose these diseases quickly so that the people who have them know they need to be extra careful when having intercourse.
Boys to Men
There are clear differences in the approach to medicine among men and women. But what causes these dramatic differences?
The key, as in many cases, is education. The difference in approach to medicine between genders primarily stems from the idea that “men should be men.” As children, boys are taught to be stoic, calm under pressure, protective, aggressive, tough, and invulnerable. Movies teach us that men are expected to be strong, unrealistically muscular, and willing to take care of business. We’ve gone a long way since the days James Bond saved a passive and grateful damsel in distress every couple of years. But we still have a way to go until we reach a realistic representation of men in cinema. The legend of the protective man came across in the Cleveland Clinic survey, with many men stating they are likelier to see a doctor when they feel like they are becoming a burden on their family and friends, when it interferes with their work, and when it tampers with their sex life.
Whereas this Spartan “men don’t complain” mindset could possibly be justified in the 3rd century BCE, there is really no reason for over 40% of men to have heard it as children in our time. The basic principles of healthcare are honesty and vulnerability. Men need to be honest with themselves, admit to pain, seek help, and open the door for a clinician to help them. There are plenty of reasons to do that, and not a single reason not to.
And that is the reason why this article refers to men and not male. This isn’t an inherent biological reason for male humans to neglect their health; this is not a matter of sex but rather gender. Masculinity is a trait learned over time, and the key is in the different ways we raise boys versus girls. Women are introduced to medicine at a relatively young age. They know they should see a gynecologist and take care of their health. Men, on the other hand, are taught to tough it out, walk it off, and… neglect their health.
To paraphrase the French philosopher Simone de-Beauvoir, one is not born, but rather becomes, a man.
New Kids on the Block
Changing a mindset as old as modern civilization is not an easy task. The majority of men won’t see a doctor even when their significant other encourages them to do so. So, how do we solve this problem?
As mentioned, men’s skewed relationship with medicine is linked to a greater question about masculinity and its role in society. It is important we understand that because that is how we start heading towards a solution as a society. We have dedicated an entire blog entry to the ways to overcome stigma, and we recommend you read it. In short, our doctors prescribe education, create a supportive environment, and enable access to help.
As a general statement, we’re not great with dealing with our own emotions, let alone other people’s emotions. By teaching kids about basic feelings and emotions, we teach them a language through which they can better communicate their pain and better understand the suffering of others. We should teach ourselves about emotions and feel comfortable speaking with our children about them. (If you are looking for a guide to speaking to your children about sensitive topics, we’ve got you covered.)
It is also important for us to create a supportive environment, in which men can take care of themselves without having negative thoughts attached to it. It is alarming that 1-in-5 men said that they would be more likely to visit the doctor if they didn’t have to specify the reasons for making the call. We should embrace men who take care of themselves, and support those who show vulnerability and speak up about their struggles – be it physical or emotional.
Lastly, we need to allow better access to healthcare. The Cleveland Clinic survey showed that 61% of men who aren’t seeing a doctor would do so if it were more convenient. That is, if the doctor’s work hours were more flexible, if virtual visits were offered, etc. Antidote Health was born from that understanding. We were established in order to allow better access to care, regardless of gender, income level, or distance from a doctor’s office. We are proud to introduce a new healthcare system that works according to your needs and is adjustable according to your time. There are no more reasons to delay your years-overdue doctor visit. So, come on, be a man – and contact one of our clinicians today.