Every November, men in South Africa and around the world grow themselves a “mo” – a moustache with a difference - that shows their support “Movember” and raises awareness about men’s health issues.
A statement from the organisers of Movember says, “The state of men’s health is in a crisis. Men experience worst longer-term health than women and die on average six years earlier. Prostate cancer rates will double in the next 15 years. Testicular cancer rates have already doubled in the last 50. Three quarters of suicides are men. Poor mental health leads to have a million men taking their own life every year – that’s one every minute.”
Men should follow the testing protocols for men-specific cancers and be on the lookout for the symptoms of these conditions (more on this at the end of this blog post). They also need to examine the psychological question: why are they reluctant to take care of themselves or seek help and how can they overcome this? The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) referred us to Gregory Eccles, a psychologist in private practice in Greenstone, to get to the root of this reluctance.
Why do men neglect their health?
According to Gregory, there are three main reasons why men don’t pay sufficient attention to their own health, or don’t seek help when they start to suspect something might be wrong. The first and most relevant is that the traditional role of masculinity is to be the provider, not to show weakness and not to show emotion. Working together, these characteristics make it extremely difficult to admit to being ill or to ask someone else – even a loved one – for help.
“The patriarchal nature of South African society puts men in that position – especially when it comes to mental health,” says Gregory. “It leads them to repress their emotions, prevents them from acknowledging a problem and prevents them from seeking healthcare or taking time off for self-care.”
The second reason that men tend to neglect their health is that traditional gender roles have put women into the roles of caregivers for the sick. In general, men were less likely to care for sick children or ailing family members and engage with medical professionals, so they just don’t have the same familiarity that women have with healthcare. In many cases, men simply don’t know how to identify the signs that they are ill.
And finally, the pace of modern living keeps men from prioritising health above all the other demands on their time. In combination with the other two factors already mentioned, their stress levels keep them from taking care of themselves.
So what should men do?
men need to accept that it takes strength of character to reach out and ask for help
Be strong enough to seek help
Gregory says that although it is something of a cliché, men need to accept that it takes strength of character to reach out and ask for help or seek medical assistance. Accept that we are all emotional beings and that to show or express sadness, fear, pain or confusion is healthy and appropriate.
Take care, so you can take care
Acknowledge that to be the provider and to take care of everyone else, they need to be in a healthy emotional and physical state. “This isn’t an ideal mindset because it tends to reinforce the idea that men must be strong, but it’s a good step in the right direction of getting men to focus on their health,” says Gregory.
And finally, since positive human relationships have the most significant impact on men’s health , men should work on building their friendships and trusting their partner enough to disclose their fears and ask for help. “Women should also encourage men to take care of themselves without being judgemental about it – which can sometimes be a difficult balance to strike,” says Gregory. “And men should try to be examples to other men – share their stories so that others can learn from them.”
Know what tests are due at what age, and have them when you should!