If you're the kind of guy who has trouble tuning in to your body's minute changes, the middle of the SARS epidemic is a good time to cop some new skills. And if you're the kind of woman who worries about this kind of guy, join the club. Men, the research tells us, are more likely to ignore a cold or flu, and -- to use a loaded metaphor -- "soldier" on.
What's more, that approach to life's minor illnesses can be lethal if you treat other symptoms the same way -- and many men do. Guys are much less likely to seek help for emotional problems or stress, life's number-one health drainer. And they're also less apt to visit a doctor for annual checkups, a terrible shame because even young men need heart and artery monitoring. And while tests for colon and prostate cancer are done on men in their 40s and 50s, it's important to remember that testicular cancer strikes most often between the ages of 15 and 34.
Why are men generally more obtuse about self-care?
Some experts say they've got to overcome a lack of the hormones and neural connections that support mothering and caretaking behaviours. Boys are often socialized to ignore their own pain. And it's possible men may be more nervous than women about facing up to their own potential fragility. That leads to a paradox: to take care of your health you might just have to keep your chin up and be a man!what the experts say"A group of men in my practice are interested in preventive care, but they're not typical. I get men in who haven't laid eyes on a doctor for 10 or 15 years. That's not unusual. (For most men) being sick is seen as an anomaly, not an organic process that flows out of how you take care of yourself. It's so pervasive that they're probably to some extent hard-wired that way. Men didn't have the time while hunting and protecting their tribe to focus on mortality. They risked their lives daily. Probably that was an effective way to live. It's important for men to accept the fact that they can get sick and that we're all going to die."HEATHER TICK, MD, MA
"Men may shift into denial mode when they experience something different in their bodies. (They tell themselves) it's nothing, it'll just go away. Men are much more likely than women to try to go it alone. Talking more with our fellow men would make us more comfortable addressing these things. I think men are getting better about taking care of themselves, but there's a big gap. It's going to take a while to catch up."
MATT MARION, editor, Men's Health magazine, Emmaus, Pennsylvania
"Women use health care services more than men, (but) most of that is explained by childbearing. There are differences not explained by biology. Women are far more likely to consult a psychologist or psychiatrist. Women are somewhat more likely to seek alternative care (acupuncture, homeopathy, massage). I can't explain that. There's no difference in men's and women's use of chiropractors. Men are more likely to ignore a cold, flu or sore throat. That seems to be a cultural thing between the genders. There are pre-clinical indications of most illnesses, little signs that all is not well. Men are dying earlier than women, and whether or not they're addressing these little signs is an interesting issue. I don't know."
KATHRYN WILKINS, senior analyst, Statistics Canada
"Men interpret information from the left side of their brain; women use both sides. (Research suggests that) when men have to work harder at thinking about emotional or caretaking issues, they have to turn that part of the brain on chemically. Women tend to think more laterally, to be more open to new ideas, perhaps to try alternative medicine. Men, being more left-brained, keep issues boxed in more. The right side is more creative; it practises associative reasoning: "I have this symptom. Maybe this means that, and maybe that should make me explore something else.' Literal reasoning on the left side would say, "OK, I've got a pain -- I've got to fix it.'"
MARK GILBERT, psychiatrist
"Young girls are taught to do preventive health care. Young boys are taught to ignore pain and differeinces in their body, to be tough and strong. They're taught to notice changes that occur in their bodies. Many men who want to be macho, to have great bodies, still don't do preventive health care. They have to understand that making sure all of your body is in good shape is cool. (There's also the problem that) the majority of health messages are targeted to women."
TRACIE SNITKER, spokesperson, Men's Health Network, Washington, DC