Not only do women live longer than men, they’re also less likely to die from injuries or suicide. Physical differences aside, one explanation for this may be that men are simply more reluctant to talk about any health worries they may have, much less see their GP or pharmacist about it.
A study by the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) found that on average, men visit their GP four times a year as opposed to women, who seek advice six times, and they use their local community pharmacy services even less – a mere four times a year compared with 18 visits for women.
There are some cultural traditions that mean men may be less likely to talk about their health, too. Women are more familiar with using health services from a younger age for contraception, family planning and cervical screening and then again throughout pregnancy and after childbirth.
Women also tend to take the lead in ensuring their children see the doctor when they need to. Later on they’re involved in breast screening and other women’s health initiatives. All these reasons could explain why women might feel more comfortable in a healthcare environment.
Erectile dysfunction is another common health concern men are very reluctant to discuss, despite the fact it’s an issue that affects over 4 million men in the UK* as well as having a profound effect on their relationships, confidence and even mental health. There’s good evidence to suggest that men don’t take advantage of the healthcare services available to them and continue to suffer in silence, which is troubling because this doesn’t have to be the case.
The NPA review also found that nine out of 10 men don’t like to trouble their GP unless they think their problem is a serious one. This means that potentially fatal conditions such as prostate or testicular cancers aren’t picked up, but a condition doesn’t have to be life-threatening to merit a visit to the doctor or pharmacist.
Concerns about ‘little things’ can really affect our mood day-to-day, and it’s stressful living with a niggling health worry that can often be sorted out. Fear of being told bad news may keep some people away from the surgery but the earlier a worry is raised, the greater the chance of a positive outcome.
Three ways to encourage the men in your life to talk about their health:
1. Suggest they see their pharmacist. This can make the whole process feel less formal and often pharmacies are open when GP surgeries aren’t, which means they won’t need to ask for time off work or to make an appointment. There are usually private rooms in which they can talk in confidence and don’t need to tell the pharmacy staff what they want to discuss. They just need to ask for a private word with the pharmacist.
2. Let them know you’re worried. Take a ‘if you won’t do it for yourself, do it for me and/or your kids’ approach. Don’t let the ensuing guilt-trip worry you one jot…
3. Make it a normal part of family life. You’re getting a check-up, so you’ve booked him in too. Ask him to take the children to the pharmacy when needed or for one of their appointments so he feels more familiar with the surgery and the set-up. It’s easier to start the conversation once he’s in an appropriate and supportive medical environment.
* Men reporting occasional and frequent difficulty getting and maintaining and erection [ref. Kantar TNS Omnibus Survey Dec 2010 – in a survey of 1,033 men]