By Becky Carter
Chief Executive Officer/Chief Nursing Officer, Blue Ridge Regional Hospital
After speaking about women’s health throughout their lifetime last month, I thought a piece that focused on men’s health would be the ideal follow up. We live in an age where patients no longer passively receive “doctor’s orders,” and that’s a good thing. Care is now a joint effort between provider and patient. In May, I touched upon women being so busy caring for others that their care often comes last; men have their own challenges regarding medical care. They tend to bypass going to the doctor at all and minimize or ignore symptoms, possibly because they feel too busy or perhaps they see seeking care as being vulnerable.
Taking charge of your care is in fact a very powerful position. Starting as teens, males should be taught about self-care, how their bodies work and at age 11-12 they should receive the HPV vaccine. The two-dose immunization protects against viruses that cause several types of cancer in men, the most prevalent of which are cancer of the mouth and throat cancer. It also protects future female partners from cervical cancer. Young men should be in conversation with their primary care providers about the importance of birth control and of condoms specifically, for both preventing unplanned pregnancy and eliminating the possibility of transmitting sexually transmitted diseases.
Good health habits for young men are similar to women’s: don’t use tobacco, eat well, use proper protective equipment during sports and exercise regularly. These practices lower men’s chances of developing high cholesterol and high blood pressure, as well as their risk for stroke, heart attack and diabetes. As women are encouraged to perform breast self-exams, men should also adopt the practice of performing testicular self-exams to detect testicular cancer, which typically strikes men younger than 40. This is also a time in life when men should, if they have not yet already, establish a relationship with their primary care physicians.
As men reach middle age, they should get screened for prostate cancer and colon cancer. The age recommendation for one’s first colonoscopy is 50. Prostate cancer screening consists of a physical exam and PSA test, which measures the prostate-specific antigen protein in the blood. Fortunately, most prostate cancers are slow growing, but men should be tested and aware of their family history.
Finally, men’s mental health is important to address. The National Institute of Mental Health reports more than 6 million men are treated for depression every year. Even more worrisome are the many who suffer with the condition without seeking treatment. Since the concept of “being a man” is still often associated with maintaining a stoic exterior, the thought that talking about depression is “weak” persists. This perception couldn’t be further from the truth. There is no shame in seeking treatment for depression.
Men’s depression often presents as anger and may harm social and family relationships, leading to isolation. If they isolate themselves, their mental health suffers even more, which puts them at greater risk for suicide. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, nearly 80 percent of suicide deaths consisted of white males in 2017, and the risk for suicide in men skyrockets at age 65 and older. In order to bolster their mental health, men need to develop social groups, work at becoming comfortable with discussing their emotional lives and maintain lifelong good health practices, such as daily exercise and good nutrition. Any man reading this who is experiencing suicidal thoughts should call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK (8255).
I’m happy to report that men’s lifespans, which have traditionally been shorter than women’s, are catching up. This is likely due to a combination of better healthcare education for men, a new model of healthcare provision and hopefully a change in men’s understanding of how our physical and mental health are interwoven. We at Blue Ridge Regional Hospital want to support all men in their quest for good health – both physical and emotional.
Rebecca W. Carter, MSN, RN, FACHE, is Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine. Carter has served in senior hospital management for over 20 years and previously served as Chief Operating Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Transylvania Regional Hospital in Brevard, also a part of the Mission Health system.
Ms. Carter is board certified in healthcare management and is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE). A native of North Carolina, she holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in nursing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ms. Carter is currently a resident of Burnsville.