Saturday 24 March 2018

Why don't men talk about their health?

With men's health drive Movember kicking off next month, our reporter hears from the movement's founder, Justin Coghlan, about the biggest health mistakes men make

Movement: Justin Coghlan travels all over the world spreading the message of Movember
Movement: Justin Coghlan travels all over the world spreading the message of Movember
Changes: Declan Branigan Photo: Gerry Mooney
Ed Power

Ed Power

Movember founder Justin Coghlan made a surprising discovery as he travelled the world spreading awareness about men's health. Guys across the globe were united in their reluctance to articulate their feelings and fears about their well-being. Speaking honestly about such issues just wasn't something a man did.

"Being Australian we were always told to harden up - don't talk about it," he says, ahead of this year's Movember event (which, as per the name of the campaign, starts November 1). "Now Movember is in 21 countries and as I travel, I find that men are all the same.

"We're dying six years younger than women on average - because we are not looking after ourselves and are presenting late [for medical attention]. It's crazy."

Movember participants grow a moustache to raise awareness of cancer and other conditions from which men are at risk (the charity will operate a free barber shop from the South William bar in Dublin through the month). "It's all about starting a dialogue. Your top lip gets hairy - you have to explain it. What we're attempting is to get guys to initiate a conversation."

As the countdown to Movember 2016 gets underway in earnest, here are some of the major health mistakes made by men.

1 Not going to the doctor regularly enough

The cliché that men go to the doctor only in times of emergency is regrettably true. No surveys have been conducted in Ireland, but America's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention showed that men are 50pc less likely to visit their family doctor for a routine check-up than women.

Solution: Make sure to see your GP at least once a year for a check-up.

2 Not accurately describing their symptoms

Even when they have been bullied/dragged/cajoled into visiting the doctor, men can be vague as to what ails them. They will tend to minimise what they are feeling, describing a sharp pain as "mild" and insisting they are fine when it is obvious they are not. Men often have an ingrained fear of seeming "dramatic" or "emotional".

The results can be frustrating for healthcare professionals and have consequences for the patients too.

Solution: Be more honest with yourself and with those around you, especially your doctor.

3 Smoking and drinking to excess

Men smoke and drink more than women in Ireland. Some 21pc of men smoke according to a 2014 HSE study, against 17pc for women. The same holds true of excessive drinking. While women are increasingly likely to binge drink, they remain very much in second place, with the most recent data showing men in Ireland consume three times more than women.

Solution: Give up smoking and monitor alcohol intake by unit (half pint, one small glass of wine). The recommended weekly unit count in Ireland is 17 for men, with the figure in the UK just 14 and just over 12 in the US.

4 Eating too much of the wrong foods

Obesity is an issue across Irish society. Again, men are more vulnerable, with diet and lifestyle leaving them at greater risk of dangerous levels of weight gain, with 43pc of men overweight compared to just 31pc of women. And one in four meet the definition of "obese". The problem is accelerating, according to UK medical journal 'The Lancet', with Ireland set to become the most obese nation in Europe within a decade.

Solution: Monitor your portion sizes and cut down on deep-fried foods and foods with high sugar content.

5 Ignoring their prostate

Prostate cancer is described as a "silent killer", with in excess of 300,000 dying worldwide from the condition each year. One reason is that prostate examinations are regarded as unpleasant (they are accompanied by a blood test screening for 'Prostate Specific Antigens' or PSA). Furthermore, certain treatments can impact on sexual function - and for many men, cancer is preferable to what they may perceive as "emasculation".

Nonetheless, the facts are incontrovertible: prostate cancer is deadly, with the incidence rate climbing with age.

Solution: Regular check-ups from aged 50 on (or 40 in cases of family history, where you are 2.5 times more likely to develop prostate cancer).

6 Bottling up their emotions

Suicide rates among men in Ireland are four times those of women, with the highest levels among those in their 20s and aged 45 to 49. Clearly men experiencing emotional difficulty do not always seek help and instead tend to suffer silently. A 2013 study by the Samaritans into men and suicide found that those in middle age are part of a rudderless "buffer" generation - "not sure whether to be like their older, more traditional, strong, silent, austere fathers or like their younger, more progressive, individualistic sons".

Solution: Open up about your feelings to loved ones and stay connected with friends and family.

'I've made positive changes in my life since cancer diagnosis'

Declan Branagan (60) was shocked but not surprised when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. In 2013, a routine medical test revealed slightly elevated levels of an antigen linked to the condition. He was working in South Africa at the time and was advised to have the matter looked into when back in Ireland.

As a successful tech industry entrepreneur, he understood the importance of acting quickly and, six months later, had arranged an appointment with a cancer specialist in Ireland, who indeed had bad news.

"Because of the recession I had been under tremendous pressure. I have no doubt there was a tie-in between my health and the stress I didn't fully realise I was experiencing. I thought I was able to cope - and I wasn't. I looked after the IT and software requirements for law firms and, when the economy collapsed, they were in the firing line. The sector was decimated and it was very tough on my business. There was a connection, I'm sure of it."

Because the cancer was detected early, surgery was successful. Ever since, Brannigan has found his outlook on work and life has changed. He has taken a step away from day-to-day management of the business and started to meditate and spend more time with loved ones.

"I've made some very positive alterations. I have become a big fan of mindfulness. I enjoy my time with my friends and family. Ultimately, it was all about responding to the diagnosis and not putting my head in the sand and pretending everything was alright."

- Ed Power

Irish Independent

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