By Alease Ferguson, Ph.D, LPCC
Male and Female Differences in Utilization of Health Care
This past year I became a family caregiver of a newly diagnosed Cancer patient.
This experience forced our family to look at an array of important medical, self-care and preventive health maintenance issues.
I share this story with you as an urgent plea to encourage your husbands, brothers, sons, grandsons and male friends to take better care of their health. It is an absolute fact that men should visit doctors for their annual health check-ups, and whenever something in their bodies does not feel right. None of us can afford to underestimate the extent of an illness and how quickly your doctor can treat the problem.
Whenever anyone has an ache or pain, they should seek immediate medical attention. However, there are differences in how men and women address their medical needs.
Research shows that most women respond quickly in seeking medical help for aches or pains. We generally will not rest until we get a diagnosis and treatment plan to cure or correct the problem. On the other hand, men may avoid taking care of their physical health for a variety of reasons. Most often, their “superhero” complex keeps them feeling indestructible. Others may view health care as a waste of time and a low priority issue.
Barriers to Men’s Health
Back in the fall of 2019, The Cleveland Clinic conducted an online survey asking 1,174 men 18 years old and older, living throughout the US to participate. The Cleveland Clinic’s MENtion It Program and the “MENtion Survey” collected data regarding men’s negative attitudes about seeking health care. The survey had some remarkably interesting findings.
Approximately two-thirds of male respondents reported that they put off going to the doctor for as long as possible. Others confessed to intentionally withholding information from their doctors or making light of their medical concerns. Even more distressing is the reality that some:
- Would rather clean toilets than go to the doctor.
- Confess to not always being honest about health matters with their doctors; and
- Prefer to self-diagnose because they fear receiving a life-threatening diagnosis.
Many men feel embarrassed or do not want to hear about making needed lifestyle changes. Foremost, they fear a negative diagnosis. In my family, we kept urging our loved one to agree to be seen by the doctor to get help. Sadly, he waited too late. For three years, he suffered from recurring stomach pains but refused to take action. He was adamant about not looking at the problem. Once, he was scheduled for an endoscopy and a colonoscopy. When I was invited back into the recovery area, I asked about the results. To my surprise, the physician reported that he only received a routine colonoscopy. He had sabotaged himself by falsely stating that the stomach pains had ceased months ago. Outraged, I told the doctors that he had just experienced a severe attack the week before. Months later he’d be brought to his knees by a sudden loss of appetite, nausea, jaundice and weakness. It all ended in hospitalization, diagnosis of a rare Cancer and months of aggressive treatment.
Note: This sad story is not meant to create more fear but to stress the need for early response and prevention which can add years to your life.
Turning the Tide on Medical Self-Neglect
You are in an awkward position whenever you: 1) see a loved one’s health fail, and 2) repeatedly ask them to seek medical attention to no avail. It is painful, and their fear and anger creates a power struggle that leaves each of you feeling disrespected and attacked.
As a therapist, I encourage you to stay in your role as a wife, sister, mother, daughter, or friend and to respect boundaries. It is a fact that obtaining a doctor’s care gives you the benefits of receiving a diagnosis, treatment and a chance to ease pain, while saving and lengthening your life. However, if your loved one is too stubborn to receive help, consider:
- Sharing your feelings of frustration represents a mixture of concern, fear and love.
- Suggesting the need for either couples or family counseling to improve communications and build trust so that everyone can be more open to receiving input, support and advice.
Be the Change
If you are having difficulty getting a loved one to get regular medical check-ups, try:
- Scheduling your annual check-ups together
- Accompanying one another to give moral support, take notes, ask questions or add to the list of issues needing attention. Make a day of it by doing lunch or dinner or going to the gym together.
- Becoming a men’s health advocate or ambassador for men’s health care at your local hospital or men’s health clinic. Volunteering for these programs may spark your loved one’s curiosity and involvement.
Even though we all have free will, keep hope alive that the men in your life will choose health.
In closing, I encourage all men to push beyond their fears and think about how valuable you are! So, drink your water, stop smoking, exercise, eat your blueberries, grains and nuts and get your annual check-ups. Your family and friends love you and hope that you can stay happy, healthy and alive.