Men’s Health – An oxymoron?

What we know about men’s approach to health and wellbeing doesn’t always make good reading. Evidence within New Zealand clearly shows that males are much less likely (than females) to have a General Practitioner and, if they do have one, they are much less likely to attend. Then, when they do go, it is more likely to be because of an injury or accident-related problem. However, under-utilization of health services is not due to any absence of need within the male population. Similarly, there is no evidence to show that men do not care about their health and wellbeing or “can’t be bothered” looking after themselves.

Whether we are talking about physical or psychological health, there are a number of issues that can make seeking help hard for men. One of the barriers to accessing health-care is that men tend to view health in a mechanistic manner. At its worst, this means running the machine till it breaks down or stops working. The irony here is that most men own a vehicle and know that this approach usually results in the cost and effort to “fix” the problem being greater and taking longer! Once a guy does get to the Doctor, the research suggests that he will tend to minimize the extent of the problem (unless things are at crisis point). One of the outcomes from this can be that clinicians may asses the problem as being less problematic than it is and their treatment plan may be based on partial information – with implications for recovery time. Not looking too good so far is it fellas?

So why do guys behave like this? One school of thought is that social and cultural expectations shape the experience of boys as they grow. This includes attitudes and behaviours relating to health issues e.g. don’t moan, don’t show pain. As part of this, they develop learned understandings around what it is to be male – we call these masculinity scripts. However, if men get trapped by these e.g. not wanting to “overreact” to the problem or to be seen as “weak”, they can end up making poor choices with health behaviours. The problem here is that the masculinity scripts both contribute to men’s health problems and act as barriers to getting help.

Of course, poor health doesn’t just affect the man himself. It has implications for his partner, children and wider family/whanau. (Not to mention participation in sports and employment). So, perhaps it’s time for guys to start taking a wider view of what it means to look after themselves so that they can remain engaged in things they find to be important … and potentially to also have better quality of life.


This blog is written by Mike McKinney Psychologist at Psycinsight NZ

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