Each year the Men's Health Network celebrates National Men's Health Week (NMHW) the week leading up to and including Father's Day, to emphasize the impact healthy men have on the family and the community, heighten the awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection, and treatment of disease among men and boys.
"There is definitely a need for a Men's Health Week," said Atlanta physician Jean Bonhomme, spokesperson for the NMHW. "In 2001, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that, even if you exclude obstetrics and gynecology, women go to the doctor 100% more than men."
This week gives health care providers, public policy makers, the media, and individuals an opportunity to encourage men and boys to seek regular medical advice and early treatment for disease and injury."We need to get men connected to the health care system. As it is now, women outlive men by 5 to 6 years, and the situation is much bleaker in minority communities," explains Dr. Bonhomme. "For instance, African American women live 8 years longer than African American men, and the Native American men have the lowest life expectancy rates among all men."
Many studies have looked at the contribution poverty and socio-economic status make to poor health outcomes. Dr. Bonhomme points out that premature death and disability among men greatly contribute to poverty rates, particularly among minorities.
"Many women get into poverty when they become widows, because their standard of living drops significantly when the other breadwinner passes away," he said.
The healthcare system has become increasingly aware of the importance of prevention for the good health of the individuals, and for the financial costs of not using preventive care.
However, prevention has proven a challenge for men. Somehow, many still believe going to the doctor is a sign of weakness.
"Well, that's the way they raise us," said Dr. Bonhomme. "When you are a young boy and skin your knee, they tell you 'men don't cry.' When you are playing football in high school and get injured, they tell you 'take one for the team.' So, when we feel pain on our chests later in life, we just assume we have to tough it up and don't complain, because real men don't do that."
And that's not even mentioning mental health issues, because according to Dr. Bonhomme, real men really don't acknowledge mental illness!
Society hasn't been very understanding of mental illness in general, and in particular of mental illness in men, he said. "If you look at CDC's ten leading causes of death, you'll see that men commit suicide three times more often than women. However, that's been a hidden fact, because supposedly only women suffer from depression," said Dr. Bonhomme.
"Men are not being taught to make their bodies a priority. They jump under their cars to fix them as soon as they hear the slightest noise, but they won't be caught dead going to the doctor's office just for 'a bit of pain in the chest'," he said.
On the other hand, there are objective factors, such as the lack of health insurance or immigration status, that make it harder for men to seek healthcare, particularly among racial and ethnic minorities.
"Most of the health research was performed on men, but then the health care delivery has not kept up, so in a sense, the healthcare system has failed both genders in different ways: it has not studied women's issues appropriately, and has not provided the benefits of all that research to men, either," said Dr. Bonhomme.
Men's Health Week is trying to publicize men's health problems, and making health care providers aware of other approaches that might bring men to the doctor's office.
"We are using peer to peer approaches with people like [former New York Mayor] Rudy Giuliani, who suffered from prostate cancer to make the issues known to the public at large," explains Dr. Bonhomme. "We want men to go to the doctor for detection and prevention, not wait until the disease is already overpowering them."
"Men won't come for chest pain, but they would come in a minute for erectile dysfunction. They don't know that such dysfunction may be a signal of other underlying problems such as diabetes. Unfortunately, men come late in life when many of the lifestyle choices have sunk in already and it's much more difficult to change," concluded Dr. Bonhomme. "We need to change that."
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