The trope of a man who refuses to see a doctor despite serious need is so recognizable, it’s practically universal. Of course, men benefit as much from doctor’s appointments—both preventive and curative—as anyone else. It’s time for a realistic look at why this stereotype persists as well as when, why, and how often they should schedule men’s health care appointments with their medical providers.
Why Don’t Men Go to the Doctor?
Theories about why men tend to find doctor’s appointments so distasteful abound. Some say men don’t like to ask for help in general, and medical help could be an offshoot of that. Some men say visiting the doctor just takes too long or isn’t likely to help. And a more practical explanation could be that doctors’ hours tend to line up with the hours many men work, making it a challenge for them to schedule and attend appointments. Other experts suggest that our society’s move away from the friendly family doctor and toward practices where patients see different staff on each visit may be to blame.
“Men give lots of reasons why they avoid doctors, but some of the reasons they don’t give are deeply embedded socially and culturally,” psychologist Katherine Krefft explained. The stereotypical male gender role of stoicism in the face of trouble could come into play. Experts point out that our culture often drills self-sufficiency and resilience into boys from a young age.
“There is a cultural understanding that all men should be macho,” John Chisholm, Chair of the British Medical Association’s Ethics Committee, told The Telegraph. “But we need to understand that this expectation of stoic masculinity is putting lives at [risk]—men shouldn’t be bottling these things up.”
Once men get into the doctor’s office, they may have difficulty openly discussing the health issues that brought them there. A doctor in one article described the problem as self-deception, as when someone who drinks daily tells their doctor they’re a social drinker. People who know their habits are unhealthy may avoid scheduling appointments as a way to avoid a scolding. The fear of finding out that something is wrong, combined with self-delusion, can be a powerful cocktail. Unfortunately, these difficulties may drive some men to wait until the last possible moment to see a doctor—when pain is unbearable or illness has gotten too serious to ignore.
Holding out that long isn’t just miserable for the time being. A lot of health concerns can develop into serious problems if left unchecked, which means the sooner a doctor has a chance to catch the symptom, the better the patient’s health outcome is likely to be. Examples of problems that can snowball into fatal conditions include high blood sugar and common ailments such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. “There is a reason men die at a younger age than women, and that reason could be because they didn’t seek preventative care,” an article at EmpowHER speculated.
While no statistics are available on how many people (of either gender) procrastinate when it comes to medical care, The New York Times reported that public health officials concur the problem is widespread.
“Scores of people who have money, health insurance and access to good medical centers are choosing not to go for checkups,” the reporter wrote. “To be sure, there are those who run to the doctor for every sniffle, but there is a whole other group that simply never goes.”
Men, Just Go to the Doctor.
The first step in managing men’s preventive health care is becoming aware of when and why these services are needed. Let’s take a look at some of the most common preventive care needs for men by age, according to Johns Hopkins.
Annual Checkups: Once you turn 40, experts recommend you see your doctor each year for a physical exam. During this appointment, take advantage of the following annual men’s preventive health care services.
- Obesity screening
- Blood pressure assessment
- Diabetes screening, if your blood pressure is higher than 135/80.
- After the age of 35, you’ll need a cholesterol test. If you are at risk of heart disease, begin this preventive screening sooner.
- Colorectal cancer screening—if you’re at high risk, begin testing sooner.
Stereotypes about male reluctance to visit the doctor aren’t likely to disappear overnight. Neither is the reality—that men are 80 percent less likely than women to receive regular healthcare services.
In the meantime, men’s health care providers are working to change the situation with actions large and small. “If we destigmatize ‘men seeking help’ from an early age, it will become more accepted, something men are allowed to talk about,” Chisholm suggested, “Because at the moment that discussion simply isn’t being had with young boys.”
Whatever your reason may be, the evidence is clear. Men, your health is too important to ignore. Take whatever steps are needed to make yourself comfortable. Consider choosing a new healthcare provider if you’re not crazy about the one you have now. And if you still feel hesitant, remember: Taking care of your health isn’t something you do just for yourself. Your health and well-being affect the lives of family, friends, and everyone who cares about you.