Physical and emotional health – What men risk

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A number of men choose to avoid medical check-ups, discuss financial problems or seek help for stress and other emotional challenges they experience.

If you are one of them, the risks you pose to yourself are endless.

For example, worrying about financial problems could contribute to depression and ultimately not only affect you, but your family as well. By not going for regular medical check-ups, you risk being left in the dark about an illness you may have, an illness which if not caught early enough, could lead to serious complications or be life-threatening at a later stage.

Medical check-ups

Finding out that you have a medical condition can be terrifying but it is important to understand that many illnesses, if detected early, can be treated effectively. If detected late and organs have already suffered damage, control of the disease would be difficult and may require multiple medications and management of the complications.

Explaining further, Dr Vernon Wessels, from ER24, said, “As a result of men not visiting a doctor as often as they should, many conditions that initially present without symptoms, such as hypertension, tumours and diabetes, tend to only be identified at a late stage. Hypertension is probably the most commonly neglected condition as it is usually without symptoms until a late stage when organs become affected, resulting in kidney failure, heart failure or a stroke. High cholesterol levels are also asymptomatic and easily manageable if identified early. Other conditions that are often not attended to early are testis tumours and colon cancer. A delay in diagnosis and treatment can have significant impact on a person,” said Dr Wessels.

Self diagnosis

A number of people tend to self diagnose and treat themselves instead of visiting a doctor. By doing this, people expose themselves to further risk.

“For example, it is advised that a person with influenza that is not improving seek medical advice. A severe case of influenza may require hospitalisation. The patient’s diagnosis may be incorrect and the influenza may actually be pneumonia that may require antibiotic treatment (medication for influenza will not work for pneumonia).

“Acute coronary syndrome is another example of a condition that men tend to ascribe incorrectly to a minor issue. This is an illness where there is insufficient flow of blood to the heart muscle, usually due to a narrowing in one or more of the coronary arteries. Patients often experience symptoms that they ascribe to heartburn or a ‘wind that is stuck’ and only seek help when their condition significantly deteriorates. This often leads to disastrous results such as cardiac arrest,” said Dr Wessels.

He urged men to regularly visit a medical professional. “Routine tests will identify the most common treatable conditions. Should something be picked up in the history or medical examination, the patient may be referred to a specialist for a detailed examination and tests depending on the condition. If for example, there is suspicion of cardiovascular disease, a cardiologist would be consulted,” said Dr Wessels.

Illness confirmed – Now what?

If you visit a medical professional and confirm that you have high cholesterol, diabetes or hypertension for example, it is vital that you follow the doctor’s instructions. “Unfortunately, for the diseases that present with little or no symptoms, there is a tendency for patients to not take the management as seriously as they should. This not only relates to the correct use of medication for the condition but also changing bad habits and ensuring a healthy lifestyle. It is only when complications like stroke or a heart attack set in, that the true impact becomes acknowledged,” said Dr Wessels.

Shy about self assessments?

Another concern relating to men is the lack of self assessments. Dr Wessels highlighted that it is important for a man to know his body. It is also important for men to conduct regular self assessments. “For example, a change in bowel habit may signify a possible problem starting in the colon. An increase in urination and drinking water may indicate the development of diabetes. Tumours of the testis is easy to identify provided you know what your testis normally feel like. A simple 10-second check while having a bath will help you determine if something is wrong. And yes, men can get breast cancer, so check those pecs regularly. If an abnormality is detected early, treatment is often simple and easy. Complications are usually avoided. Late treatment is complex and expensive and the complications can make the remainder of your life miserable,” said Dr Wessels.

Why men shy away from doctors, psychologists

Reasons for men shying away from doctors, counsellors or psychologists vary. Henning Jacobs, the Trauma Support Co-ordinator at ER24, said, “Men are often too embarrassed to consult a professional. In addition to assuming that a visit to a doctor is not necessary if symptoms experienced are ‘minor’, men tend not to visit a doctor because they are either ‘too busy’, want to avoid bad news or find it embarrassing when doctors have to do a check-up.”

He added that generally, men who experience financial difficulties or struggle to provide for their families believe that they are failing in their duties. “Failure is one of the worst fears that men have. The thought of being a failure is a fear so bad that they are hesitant to talk about it. A number of men do not speak about their problems or seek assistance due to males historically being perceived and raised by society to be strong and independent as well as providers and protectors. Men fear being perceived as weak. They believe that they must be able to handle anything because that is what men do in order to succeed. As a result, they choose to keep quiet about problems they are encountering rather than seek help,” said Jacobs.

Signs to look out for

There are instances where family members suspect that something is wrong however, are unable to determine for sure. There are also instances where family members are completely unaware. Jacobs said some signs family and friends can look out for include:

  • Anger outbursts – Generally, when men struggle to cope with problems, they keep it bottled up. Usually, when they can no longer deal with these problems, they express themselves through anger or irritation.
  • Change in personality or behaviour – Personality changes or changes in behaviour is also a common sign of a man who is struggling to cope with something. If men start to withdraw from close friends or choose to stay at home more than they used to, it could be a sign that something is wrong.
  • Loss of interest – Men who do not want to participate in things they usually love doing, for example, watching sport.
  • Choice of words – Men might drop subtle lines such as ‘It is not worth living anymore’, ‘What is the use of living’ or ‘Let’s put an end to all of this’.

Jacobs said if a family member suspects a loved one is struggling to cope with something, they should approach them with other family members and not alone. A wife for example, can approach her husband in the company of their children. “They should express their concerns with love and not anger. Men need to hear that they are loved. Urge them to seek help and support them throughout the process,” said Jacobs.

What should men do

Men with emotional or financial problems should choose one or two people that they trust to talk to. In case of financial problems, men should also seek professional help in the form of debt counselling or legal advice. When men do not have anyone they believe can trust, they should speak to a counsellor.

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