A few days ago, a relative dropped at our home for a cup of tea. As we were talking, the issue of coronavirus vaccination came up. I inquired if he had received the vaccine hoping to enlighten him on the importance of the jab. The answer is as good as your guess. I took my time and educated him on why coronavirus vaccination is the only option available. I took him through the history of vaccines and how it has helped eliminate some of deadly diseases in human history. I discussed with him some of the scariest symptoms related to coronavirus infection like; the long haul Covid-19 illness, the debilitating effect, and even the tragic turn of events in case one is infected. I encouraged him to get vaccinated. My fingers are closed that he will go for the vaccine. But to an adult, whether related or not, you can only do so much!
This experience set the pace for our discussion today. Many men are yet to get vaccinated, not because they are too busy but because of varied hidden reasons. We shall “bridge the health gap” by looking at health seeking habits of men, the health profile that puts them at risk of ill-health, health-seeking characteristics, and how men can optimize their health through timely decision-making and targeted health-seeking.
Definition of a health-seeking habit
Health-seeking habit refers to the recognition of a health need and the action taken to get a solution. Most often, an ailment will lead to health service utilization. The time it takes when an individual is aware of a health problem and when a solution is sort affects the treatment outcome. Promptly seeking care when a problem is recognized increases chances of early diagnosis, treatment, and better chances of recovery without many disabilities. Delayed treatment increases disease burden and accompanying disability and at times leads to premature death.
Processes of a health-seeking behavior
For anyone to seek health advice, a few things must have occurred to trigger or motivate health-seeking. Acknowledging the existence of the health issue is by recognizing that new and unfamiliar symptoms have developed in a particular part of the body. An attempt to understand or appraise the problem is the second step. Here a few things are considered. For instance, the degree of disability associated or severity. Slow emerging symptoms that are non-limiting in physical activity can lead to delay in seeking care. What follows is a consultation with family and friends. At this point, appropriate action regarding the symptoms may lead to either admission into a health facility for ultimate care or a wait-and-see stance. If any of the four steps are not systematically analyzed and implemented, health-seeking may delay.
Inherent male health characteristics
- Evidence indicates that men suffer more ill-health, fall sick at a young age, and have more debilitating diseases like heart disease, liver disease, alcoholism, suicide, and violent–related deaths.
- Men engage in high-risk occupations exposing them to fatal accidents and injuries; long-distance drivers, fishing, forestry, and lifting of heavy loads.
- Men experience more mental and emotional health problems increasing the risk of alcohol, drug abuse, and death.
- Men face more work-related stresses concerning the work environment.
- Men rarely receive preventive health services including gender-related reproductive health.
- Because of limited interaction with health services, men rarely access health literacy, and when they get, are equally poor consumers of the information that is fundamental for decision making.
- Men are more likely to fall out of long-term treatment plans, have poor adherence to strict clinical follow-ups, and fail to observe treatment restrictions such as mixing medication and alcohol.
- As head of his family, a man is the final decision maker even in matters relating to the health needs of other family members. Lack of appropriate health literacy impacts their actions with dire consequences.
Factors that delay health-seeking among men
Studies from all over the world indicate a disproportionate relationship in health-seeking habits between men and other subgroups. Outlined are some characteristics that contribute to poor health characteristics among men;
- Lack of knowledge and understanding of diseases and their symptoms can aggravate an illness. Lack of knowledge of a particular ailment limits the interpretation of risks associated with it. For example, cancers and chronic diseases can have mild or slow progressive symptoms that are overlooked and delay health-seeking.
- Male gender-specific symptoms of the reproductive system receive little attention until the problem is out of hand.
- Conflicting responsibilities. As head of the family, men are too busy to detect symptoms, suppress symptoms, or ignored them. Claims of being too busy at work and lack of time to seek medical attention are common reasons. Sometimes the disease receives low priority among competing engagements.
- Optimistic that the symptoms will disappear. This attitude prolongs and aggravates symptoms.
- Sometimes men believe what was to happen will happen. Fatalism is a term describing when a person conforms to the situation. It is like losing hope that things can be different turn. Kind of self-condemnation
- Machoism, a term used to describe a sense of “manliness” can affect how pain is perceived and communicated. Men are supposed to be the stronger gender, and anything that can demean this feeling is unwelcome. When an illness strike instead of seeking help, a man can decide to bear it all.
- Difficulty in expressing symptoms. Delayed communication means they do not receive help in good time to alley disabilities and complications.
- Men get embarrassed discussing matters that portray their weakness.
- Men suffer stigma when sick. To avoid stigmatization, men will hide symptoms from everyone and will even refuse to seek help.
- Financial constraints and loss of day’s wages. Though more applicable to low-income earners whose pay is dependent on daily work, causal laborers may end up working while sick for fear of losing their daily earning
Perceived health system-related barriers to men health
- Long waiting time coupled with lengthy queues have often been blamed reasons why men are reluctant to seek health care.
- Lack of empathy by health workers towards patients. To a man who is unwilling to seek health care, this attitude can discourage them more.
- Sometimes men may prefer specific gender consultants. Some men find it more comfortable being attended by female doctors, while others prefer male doctors. When the choice of a preferred health care provider is unmet, men get disappointed.
Facilitators of Men Health-seeking behavior
- Supportive spouse, family members, or friends.
- Adequate knowledge of the illness. Health literacy is acquired formally through the consumption of health information or informally from family and friends.
- Having a good medical insurance cover
- Death of a close family or friend from a similar illness
- Gender-sensitive health system
Some policy considerations
There is a need for gender sensitivity in structural designs that proactively prioritize male-oriented health programs. In particular, emotional, mental, and reproductive health needs that men are reluctant to share.
Poor health literacy combined with inadequate health-seeking behavior has more far-fetched consequences impacting on lives of close family members who are entirely dependent on a man’s health literacy on diseases for timely decision making. Strategies to increase men health literacy not only improve their health seeking behaviour but has an effect on their dependents’ quality of life.