My columns are designed to explore topics, start a conversation and touch on real life issues that affect every community. The series is not designed to take the place of medical advice and if you do have any concerns of that nature then you should, as always seek advice from your doctor.
This issue I’m talking to all the men out there – do we always seek help when we should? The answer is of course, not always. Why is this the case? Is it all about the bravado and male stereotype of not requiring help, or is there something else? Illnesses affect men and women equally, and yet there is clear evidence that less men flag up their concerns to their doctor when they should.
Research shows that many men seem to get a lot of their support from their partners, friends or family and they seek support indirectly, unlike women. Unsurprisingly this may be linked to an innate fear of appearing to be vulnerable, with denial being a potential influence on whether men seek help or not. Another interesting point is that men are more likely to indicate general health concerns rather than specifics. A similar point holds true for mental health issues, where men are less likely to seek help once again. So why are we so bad at this?
Beyond the alpha male influence, and without attempting to discuss psychology – do men emulate a stereotype personality that does not allow them to discuss their problems? Is this a biological consequence of being a man, or does society play a role in who should seek help and when?
These are all questions without any specific answers, and ones that psychologists have tried to answer. Interestingly, a psychologist from the States, produced the term ‘normative male alexithymia’ or without word for emotions. This is a phenomenon where a male may be so disconnected from his emotions that he simply does not know whether he is depressed, and so the recognition factor of there even being a problem has gone! As interesting as that is however, my discussion comes from a medical stand-point, where by not seeking help, any health ‘management’ is delayed. So those who are sick, usually become sicker. I think it is a combination of personality and societal factors that come into play – and that may be why evidence shows men shy away from help.
Seeking help when needed is a normal process, and as society begins to accept that this is normal, men will seek more help for problems that they couldn’t talk about before, and for whatever reason that was the case.
This comes on the back-drop of bowel cancer awareness month. Bowel cancer can be treated, if diagnosed and treated early. So those men, or women who have concerns such as bleeding from their bottom, or finding blood in their stools; who have a change in bowel habit lasting more than 3 weeks; with unexpected weight loss; tiredness or pain in their abdomen should see their GP. It should be noted that the majority will not have cancer, however, if the signs are there – then it is a good idea to be reviewed by your doctor. It’s not embarrassing, it’s sensible and it could be life saving.
The UK bowel cancer screening programme is aimed at those between ages of 60 and 74 years. They will be invited, if registered with a GP, to take part in screening every two years using a home-kit test called the FOBT or Faecal Occult Blood Test. It is quite clear that this screening test does increase the risk of catching a problem, and lowers the risk of dying from Bowel Cancer. Early diagnosis may result in cure and the chances are better if caught early. There are downsides to the test as well – that it is not perfect; it may not catch the blood at the right moment, and it could give a false positive result. For more information, you can visit the NHS Choices website.
A healthier future is a brighter one; I think we’d all agree. So how will you tackle your next health concern? Seeking help is nothing to be ashamed of and at some point in our lives most of us will need to talk to a doctor about a problem – isn’t it better sooner rather than later? This April in bowel cancer awareness month, we should all be especially aware and on the lookout for signs and symptoms of a potential bowel problem. The GP should be your first port-of-call and if you do have any concerns you should visit your doctor.
I hope that leaves you with some questions, and some of which only you may have the answers. Reflect and enjoy the journey! You can follow my Twitter feed on @Faraaz_Bhatti and let’s talk about important health issues. If you would like me to discuss any specific issue or get a conversation going then feel free to let me know.