movemberIt’s finally November, the time of year when I start thinking about turkey and spending Thanksgiving with my extended family. It’s also a time when we start to see mustaches on friends and family who normally don’t grow one, participating in the latest health-awareness trend: Movember. This annual event raises awareness for men’s health by having men grow mustaches in order to change the face of men’s health. While you might not be a fan of your husband’s newest facial feature, the hair growth provides us with a reminder that all men are at risk for a variety of devastating illnesses, including prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental illness.
I want to take some time to talk about this because men often downplay the importance of their health. Many studies have shown that women visit the doctor more often than men and, as a result, undergo needed screening for potentially deadly diseases more often. They get the added benefit of understanding their health and knowing their body better.
There are many reasons men go to the doctor less often, but a big reason is that we’ve been taught to “man up” our entire lives. Girls who fall down and start crying often get a little TLC until they feel better, whereas boys are told to suck it up and stop crying. That teaches us to do the same when it comes to all of our health problems. If I’ve got a new pain somewhere, my bowel movements have changed recently, or I’ve been feeling sad for a while, most men tell themselves to suck it up and keep it to themselves.
Unfortunately, that’s the worst way to deal with your health. Cancer is a great example of why this is the case. The sooner we can find and attack cancer, the easier it is to destroy it once and for all. That means the strange lump that just appeared on your testicle should be mentioned to your doctor right away, rather than saying “it’s probably nothing” and giving it a few weeks to go away. By the time you’re forced to see someone, it might be too late.
Mental illness in particular can be a difficult problem to tackle. I’ve talked many times before about how important mental health is. I’ve also talked about the stigma associated with mental illness that keeps those who suffer from it from speaking up. That stigma is multiplied in the male population, who tend to see mental illness as a weakness to be battled through alone rather than something they need help with.
It’s easy for me to say that the men in your life should probably be going to the doctor more, but it’s another thing to get them to do it. In the spirit of Movember, here are a few tips for getting even the most stalwart in for a checkup:
- Express your concern. This might seem too easy, but sometimes just letting someone know you’re concerned about their health can give them a reason to go to the doctor. Letting someone know you’re worried about their prostate cancer risk might get them thinking they should be too.
- Give them different reasons. Sometimes it can be tough to get someone to see the light, especially when the person you’re worried about might not think there’s a problem. Don’t be deterred. Try a different tack if others haven’t worked. For example, if doing it “for your health” isn’t enough, try suggesting they see someone just to confirm they really do know what’s going on with their body. You could even mention a bonus excuse to get a little bit of time away from work to pop out for an annual visit.
- Tell them to do some research. If a guy is adamant there’s nothing wrong, ask him to do some searching around on the Web first. This is especially useful for mental illness, which can be very isolating. Finding out other people are getting help for going through something similar normalizes seeking medical attention.
- Remind them they’re taking control of their health. Hoping you aren’t sick isn’t a great way to hold the reins of your health. A doctor can give you tools to put you behind the steering wheel instead. Take testicular cancer as an example. When done properly, regular testicular exams are an excellent way to detect cancer early. Once you learn how to do the exam, you shouldn’t need to see the doctor about testicular cancer unless you find something. With a single visit, you’ve gained the power to monitor your health.
- Make sure they know that regular checkups often mean fewer visits (eventually). While you might feel healthy, everyone eventually ends up at the doctor. Going once or twice a year could save you many more visits and a possible hospital stay once you’re forced to see someone.