While barriers to men seeking help for physical health issues are overwhelmingly organizational in nature, when it comes to mental health issues, emotional factors such as unwillingness to talk about their problems, embarrassment or discomfort and a lack of confidence in a specialist's ability to help start to play a nearly equal role, the results of a recent men's health behavior survey show.
Commissioned by the Ministry of Social Affairs and conducted by Kantar Emor, the goal of the survey was to understand why men in Estonia refrain from utilizing various counseling and healthcare services, as well as to find and, in part, to test various ways and means of encouraging men to make increasing use of these services.
One of the preconditions for seeking and using help is that a risk-posing change to one's health goes noticed. In the case of physical health issues, chief problems include long wait times, being short on money and time as well as unsuitable appointment hours. While 93 percent of men reported typically being able to tell right away if something is wrong in terms of their physical health, that figure drops to just 71 percent when it comes to their mental health.
The study also revealed that only just over half of men — 56 percent — adequately assessed their body weight, meaning that their actual body mass index (BMI) and their self-assessment of their body weight matched.
While 78 percent of respondents had sought help for more serious physical health concerns, just 42 percent did so for mental health issues interfering with their daily lives.
Seeking help for mental health issues also had significant correlations with masculinity-related beliefs, the study noted, citing that 61 percent of male respondents claimed that it bothers them when they have to ask for help, and 68 percent admitted that they don't like talking about their feelings.
These beliefs were most commonly held among older men — aged 50-74 — but asking for help was deemed challenging regardless of age.
Meanwhile, very few — just 6 percent — of men had sought the help of a specialist for smoking cessation or quitting drinking alcohol. The prevailing belief is that a man should handle this on their own if they've decided to quit.
The study results also revealed that while most men — 86 percent — take constructive action, such as buying the appropriate medicine from the pharmacy, in the case of physical health issues, only 62 percent do when it comes to mental health issues, such as by seeking support from a loved one or paying increased attention to a healthy lifestyle.
At the same time, 11 percent take destructive action when it comes to physical health issues, and as many as 63 percent do so when it comes to mental health issues, such as by taking their mind off their concerns or consuming alcohol or other addictive substances.
Many men likewise employ both constructive and destructive coping mechanisms simultaneously.
Kantar Emor chief expert Jaanika Hämmal said that men often have difficulty noticing and describing their own health problems.
"It's crucial to help men take notice of their health problems and to describe them," Hämmal said. "Especially when it comes to mental health issues and particularly older men often lack the vocabulary to describe their concerns. Furthermore, many men hold beliefs related to autonomy and emotional control; they're used to managing on their own and not sharing their feelings."
A number of solutions exist for increasing men's awareness, addressing their attitudes and norms as well as improving access to services.
"Such as health promotion through employers and the workplace, online primary health counseling, simplifying making appointments, improving healthcare professionals' communication and counseling skills, and the compilation and distribution of evidence-based self-help and lifestyle materials," she listed as examples.
"It's also sometimes necessary to bring the services to men, not expect the men themselves to come to the service," she continued. "Above all, however, it's crucial for men to understand that taking care of their health is manly, and will allow them to better fulfill the roles important to them in life!"
Editor: Aili Vahtla