Men: Stoic, silent and sick

Men: Stoic, silent and sick McGill University

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McGill Reporter
November 8, 2001 - Volume 34 Number 05
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 34: 2001-2002 > November 8, 2001 > Men: Stoic, silent and sick

Men: Stoic, silent and sick

Germain Dulac would like to help his fellow man stay healthy.

Photo Germain Dulac, a research associate in the School of Social Work
PHOTO: Owen Egan

At least, with the publication of his new book, Aider les Hommes Aussi (Éditions VLB), he hopes to shed new light on how health and social service workers can better serve their male clientele.

A research associate in the School of Social Work, Dulac started writing his book in 1997, as part of an investigation he launched with a Quebec social services consortium. Their shared goal was to help find ways to decrease the rates of violence, suicide and substance abuse among men.

Dulac, however, didn't initially plan on turning his findings into a book. "I was pressured to do so," he chuckles from his Wilson Hall office, recalling how his investigation morphed into print.

He was persuaded by colleagues to write Aider les Hommes Aussi as a wakeup call for Quebec's health and social service sectors, which he says don't cater well to men. Health services are generally better geared towards a female clientele, which partly explains why women use medical services twice as often as men, according to provincial statistics.

Yet health and social services aren't solely to blame, Dulac says. Cultural norms, social class and ethnicity are all deeply ingrained culprits that influence how men look after their physical and mental well-being. For some men, simply acknowledging feelings of sadness can cause them to lose their sense of virility.

In other cases, Dulac says, when men seek help or express fragility, they are condemned, stigmatized or rejected by their peers. "Social dogmas don't permit men to believe or admit they can be vulnerable," he says, noting men are expected to take risks, be strong and stoic.

Those traditional gender roles are what cause men to suffer in silence and receive poor medical and social services. Women, on the other hand, regularly visit their dentist, take more sick days off work to recuperate from illness, and have routine check-ups.

Women have far fewer reservations about relating how they feel, which is a key reason why they are hospitalized sooner for medical treatment and have more surgical interventions than men. "Women take a preventive approach to health care," says Dulac. "Men react after the fact.

"And when men do consult a doctor, a psychologist or therapist," he continues, "it's often too late."

Dulac says it's urgent that men change their views on health care if they expect to live longer. Currently, women around the world have a longer life expectancy than men, he says. "Their heightened use of health care services explains this difference."

Despite our post-feminist era, Dulac says, the majority of men are still taught to bottle up their feelings and maintain an illusion of strength. That makes the journey from boyhood to manhood a traumatizing process, he adds, since boys learn to neglect their emotional instincts because of societal ideals.

Those ideals, in turn, prompt health and social service providers to believe men aren't as vulnerable to suffering as women. Men are perceived as the dominant sex and most favoured in society, he says, making male suffering "a new social taboo."

That's why Dulac hopes parents read his book, too, so they might teach their boys to express what ails them. If boys are better equipped to verbalize their pain, he says, as men they can better avoid social ills, including drug or alcohol abuse, suicide and family violence.

As for how health and social services professionals can improve the lot of men, Dulac recommends they read the latest male studies, attend workshops on how to better service a male clientele and test new techniques.

The way health workers respond to male patients and interpret their problems is equally critical, he says. "They need to ask men, not how they feel about pain, but rather what hurts."

If it sounds like health care workers have much work ahead of them, Dulac agrees, since traditional men's roles won't be thrown by the wayside anytime soon. "That means everyone needs to learn how to better listen and respond when men seek help."

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