Male Health, Anxiety and Dysmorphia - what are the barriers to better health?
November is National Men’s Health Awareness month.
Why is talking about men's health so important? For many, the reason is not so obvious. Here, we delineate why raising awareness for men’s health is of crucial importance in a progressive and advancing society.
Men die faster and do not look for help
What we know from evidence spanning most of the world’s societies is that men working in male-dominated occupations are at greater risk of developing harmful health behaviours such as alcohol abuse, smoking, and having lower health outcomes. Moreover, studies examining gender-based mortality rates have shown that men working in male-dominated occupations are at greater risk of suicide compared to the rest of the population, with rates in 2019 and 2020 being the highest of the past two decades… a worrying trend.
“Men are less likely to report suffering from stress and, even when they do, they are less likely to accept treatment for stress.”
What is striking to see is that men in these occupations tend not to reach out for professional medical or mental support, take fewer days off work and are less aware of their physical and mental condition, hindering the possibility of getting better. So, a natural question arises: why does this happen?
What is ‘Health Literacy’?
Health literacy can be broadly defined as a person’s knowledge and capacity to apply and understand health information in order to make decisions concerning health promotion and disease prevention. What has been seen in men is reduced health literacy. This not only means a lack of knowledge with regards to healthy behaviours but, more importantly, an adverse attitude towards what may be labelled as "healthy". Men are less likely to report suffering from stress and, even when they do, they are less likely to accept treatment for stress.
Barriers to men’s health literacy
So why is it a hard task to improve men’s health literacy? As you can imagine, the issue is complex and multifaceted.
Historically, one major point was the lack of availability of quality educational resources. Men simply did not have the opportunity to learn. Nowadays, despite access to educational programmes encouraging open discussion and peer learning around the topic of health, as well as online resources and international awareness campaigns like Movember, there are still barriers to gaining health literacy.
The role of Masculinity
Acknowledging that barriers to men’s health literacy may be deeply rooted in our societal and cultural idea of masculinity is imperative. For some an outdated concept, the self-reliant, unbreakable, competitive and proud male is still a major symbol of the collective imaginary. An imaginary that leads to turning a blind eye to signs of disease, not asking for help when needed and enduring unnecessary suffering.
Wherever we look, we can find countless positive examples of the traditional idea of manhood being challenged—the freedom of expression promoted by digital social outlets have greatly helped. Nonetheless, many are still harmed by these stereotypical views of male and female. No one is to blame for this. Indeed, it can be hard to be actively included in the conversation around gender, to ‘speak’ as loud as certain groups do on social media, to have opinions valued and listened to, or to even have the resources to change such a deeply ingrained part of our identity and culture. The direction of change is the right one, and slowly but surely, we are moving toward a place of greater acceptance, education and emancipation from degrading gender-based roles.
The conversation, however, has to remain open and inclusive and reach a larger audience for everyone to start a collective reflection, rather than restricting it to certain groups or niches.
The role of socioeconomic status
It is no secret that lower socioeconomic status is linked to worse health outcomes. People in lower socioeconomic positions are more likely to have adverse working conditions, harmful health behaviours and beliefs, and less access to healthcare resources. What is more, traditional ideas of gender roles tend to be more dominant in deprived areas and among people of lower socioeconomic status, for both men and women. Economic struggle, living in unsafe neighbourhoods and less access to cultural and educational resources are only some of the elements that may lead men to “toughen up” and adopt a stronger masculine identity.
The data speaks clearly, men in lower-income positions and more deprived areas have a greater chance of having testicular and prostate cancer with lower rates of survivorship. Awareness campaigns, free testing and educational schemes may not be enough. The discussion around men’s health also needs to include that of improving quality of life and socioeconomic conditions. There is a lot we can do in our small sphere, including talking openly and without shame about men’s health, but a lot also needs to be addressed at higher levels.
Osteopathy and male health at Core Clapton
Movember is famously renowned for images of people wearing comical moustaches in order to raise awareness of testicular cancer, a major killer in men. Although not immediately obvious, osteopaths play a crucial role when it comes to dealing with significant male health conditions. Indeed, as primary health practitioners, osteopaths are fully trained and skilled to screen for pathology or deal with some of the growing mental conditions in men such as body dysmorphia and anxiety.
The hallmark sign of testicular cancer is a lump on the testis, occasionally coupled with tenderness and swelling. It is not uncommon for patients to also report pain in the lower abdomen or groin, symptoms for which people may seek help from osteopaths. Your osteopath will always ask you all the relevant questions and screen as necessary to rule out serious pathology.
Another prime condition in men, often overlooked, is prostate cancer; and frequent symptoms of this cancer include back and hip pain. As osteopaths, if a male patient in the right age group shows up complaining of back and hip discomfort, we are always on the lookout for other elements that may indicate this type of malignancy. Patients will likely be asked about the quality of the urine flow, whether there is blood in the urine, weakness in the legs and so on. If any other sign should be indicative of prostate cancer, your osteopath will refer you with an official letter to the appropriate medical professional for further screenings.
Mental health conditions in men have been on the rise over the past decade. A generally increasing trend for manual and physical therapists is dealing with body dysmorphia. This condition tends to be prevalent in males, and it starts with a distorted view of one’s own body leading to severe psychological issues and eating disorders. It is often the case that men focused on achieving greater physical gains are unable to see the results or are never fully satisfied with the outcomes of their hard work. The exhausting workouts, harsh diets and unidirectional focus tend to have severe repercussions on mental health, leading to depression, loneliness and anxiety. Thanks to the awareness of the signs and symptoms of this condition, osteopaths will be able to notice, educate and reassure patients early in its development in order to avoid negative consequences arising further on down the line.
Anxiety has many causes. What often happens is that feeling anxious over one concern seeps into other aspects of our life making us anxious about a whole host of things, usually without reason. Being in pain and not having an answer for it can be a significant cause of anxiety, especially if it is in an area that can often be painful like the testicles (which, as we discussed above, can often simply be referred from the lower back) or an unexplained headache. Having an osteopath explore your lifestyle choices, examine your musculoskeletal system and ask important medical questions as a screening protocol can help reassure you and find a solution to your anxiety. Your osteopath will also give you home exercises and tips to help calm your thoughts and help you feel more centred.
In summary, National Men’s Health Awareness Month means a lot more than simply testicular cancer awareness. This month we critically consider the numerous barriers that stand between men and better health. In doing so, we cannot shy away from analysing the broader socio-political questions that concern education, gender dynamics and socioeconomic status. Osteopaths can play an essential role in the quest to bettering the health of men and Core Clapton is at the forefront of tackling all of these overarching aspects, from screening for serious pathologies to helping deal with mental health conditions, to educating the community and accessible rates for those that cannot afford standard private care. The journey to achieve the goals set by the Men’s Health Month is still long, but a lot indicates that we are on the right track and Core Clapton wants to be at the forefront of this pursuit.