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Men's health slips off the radar: health expert


Men’s health slips off the radar, says health expert

New Zealand men play Russian roulette with their health and could be shortening their own lives as a result, says a leading lecturer in men’s health issues.

“New Zealand men tend to ignore their health issues in the hope any problems will go away,” says Dr Stephen Neville the spokesperson for Age Concern’s men’s health project. Age Concern is running the project to mark International Men’s Health Week (June 12-18).

Dr Neville is a doctor of nursing and a lecturer in men’s and older person’s health at Massey University’s School of Health Sciences. Dr Neville is also a board member of the College of Nurses.

“Men can be afraid to get treatment for fear of what they might learn, or have to go through when, in many cases, getting advice early will not only deal with the problem easily and painlessly, it will also stop all the worry and prevent simple health issues becoming bigger problems.”

Dr Neville said nearly a quarter of New Zealand men smoke, 27% have potentially hazardous drinking patterns and around 20% of men are obese.

Men over 45 also have a high risk of bowel, skin and prostate cancer, sexual dysfunction and psycho/social ailments.

“Men need to have an annual health warrant of fitness. They could live healthier, happier and longer lives if they did.”

More also needs to be done at Government level to promote the importance of men’s health, Dr Neville said.

“A lot of emphasis has been placed on improving women’s health in the last 20 years, but men’s health has slipped off the radar”.

“There is no political advocacy for improving men’s health, there are still exceptionally few health providers catering specifically for men, and men’s health doesn’t always feature on the curriculum for nurses’ education and professional development.

“As nurses are the largest group of health professionals, and usually the first point of contact in the primary health sector, it is essential that they are better educated to deal with, and have more awareness of, men’s health issues.”

Age Concern has seen the need to raise awareness of men’s health and has published a pamphlet outlining a three point plan for improving men’s health:

1. Get a health warrant of fitness now – it may help prevent problems later.

2. Take action to stay healthy – watch what you eat and exercise regularly.

3. Get early help with any problem – it will make you feel better and could help you live longer.

The pamphlet is called “Men’s Health – ignoring it won’t make it better” and copies can be obtained from your local Age Concern Council or


Feature article June 2006

If only you’d come for treatment earlier: Why men don’t see doctors

“I really thought I was going to die,” says Daniel, a 45 year old male and an ex-smoker.

“I’d had trouble breathing for several years, I was getting light headed and dizzy, and I was always tired.

“I tried to tell my self it was just age, but every time I took one of the kids to the doctor, I’d see these posters for people suffering from COPD (a breathing disorder that affects 40+ year old ex-smokers). The list of symptoms was exactly the same as mine.

“While I was on a family holiday, I came across an article in a women’s magazine about a guy who’d had a lung transplant. He seemed to have the same breathing symptoms as me and that really ruined my holiday.

“Why didn’t I see the doctor? Several reasons, really.

“Firstly, I’d never been sick when I was younger – always very fit and bullet proof. I still hoped I was, although it was getting increasingly difficult to sustain that belief!

“I was also brought up in an environment that had no time for sickness or physical incapacity. If there was a problem you toughed it out - you didn’t complain, you just got on with it. That’s what men do.

“But another reason was that, especially when things got bad, I was scared of what the doctor would tell me.

“As an ex-smoker, I didn’t want to hear that my breathlessness was the onset of lung cancer, mild emphysema or a heart condition, which was very possible at my age.

“It might sound crazy, but the fear of what might be wrong with me kept me from getting any treatment for it.”

In the end, Daniel had no choice about seeing the doctor. Suffering from what he assumed was a mild heat attack in the office (severe breathlessness, dizziness and sweats) he was rushed straight to the nearest medical centre.

“I’d been feeling very short of breath for several days and that morning it got really bad and the dizziness and the sweats started in a big way.

“But, I had meetings to go to so I thought that if I could just get over this particular hump, things would come right. I thought I could will the bad stuff away – yeah, right!”

The ECG showed Daniel hadn’t had a heart attack, but the doctor couldn’t diagnose him – other than to say he was stressed out! He was advised to get a full physical.

Daniel went back to work that afternoon – more meetings and client deadlines. It took him three more days to muster the courage to make the appointment for the full check-up. And even then, he says, he had to be convinced to have all the tests on offer.

“In hindsight I was totally stupid, but at the time, even though I was bloody worried, I still didn’t want to hear the worst. I still tried to duck some of the tests.”

Daniel is typical of many New Zealand males who resist getting early treatment for a health issue. In doing so, they put themselves and their families through considerable extra worry and stress, and run the risk of exacerbating what might have been a relatively simple-to-treat condition.

“As a result, men tend to die younger than women and be more prone to accidents, intentional injury and suicide, and some illnesses” says Dr Stephen Neville, the spokesperson for Age Concern’s Men’s Health project. Dr Neville is a lecturer at Massey University and a board member of the College of Nursing.

“Statistically, men of lower socio-economic status, and men who live alone, have more health problems. Maori and Pacific men have poorer health overall”.

“I believe that New Zealand men have this ‘she’ll be right’ view of their health,” says Daniel..

“It seems that an attitude prevails that real men don’t cry, eat quiche - or see a doctor, a belief that results in men having fewer years free from disability and poorer health.”

Waiting the couple of days for his health check-up was nerve-wracking, Daniel says, as was the wait for the results.

But it was well worth it. A thorough examination revealed that Daniel had nothing wrong with him apart from slightly raised cholesterol and a very severe case of stress and over-exertion.

“All that worry, over all those years, for nothing. I don’t know how many nights I lay awake worrying about what might be wrong with me. I didn’t talk to my partner about it or my friends. I just carried this problem around and hoped it would go away.

“But the really stupid thing is that if there had been something wrong with me, then delaying treatment would probably have just been making it worse.

“I would have looked pretty stupid if the doctor had said ‘if only you’d come to see me sooner!’.”


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