Men’s Health Week (12 to 18 June) is a timely reminder that talking about health can save your life. “Men see health differently to women and may not consider something a problem until it affects their functioning,” Dr Suzette Pyke, a GP from the Sunshine Coast explains. “This can result in an illness being more advanced when they finally present to a doctor. Men speaking about their health with each other can help change this perception of health and encourage men to see a doctor earlier – you don’t need to wait until you can’t work or do the things you love. This can help change the Australian male culture that discourages men from admitting vulnerability and seeking help.” To get the conversation started, Dr Pyke shares five questions every man should ask their father.
Question 1: Have you or anyone in the family had cancer?
“Knowing your family medical history is extremely important for any man wanting to understand his own risks and manage his health effectively,” says Dr Pyke. “Any illness that runs in your family is important to know about and tell your GP about. Particularly important, are cancers such as prostate, bowel, and melanoma. With this knowledge, you can engage in proactive measures such as regular screenings and preventive lifestyle habits. For men who have a family history of certain cancers, more regular screening or starting screening earlier in life, may be recommended. Once you’ve had the discussion, share the information with your GP who can advise what course of action – if any – is best.
Question 2: Have you, or anyone on your side of the family had a heart attack, stroke or suffered from high cholesterol?
Cardiovascular disease including hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, heart attacks and strokes can also be hereditary, so it’s important you know whether your father or anyone on his side of the family has suffered from these. “Whatever the condition, it’s important to find out what age your relative was when they were diagnosed as your GP will use this information to help stratify your own risk,” says Dr Pyke. “Your risk level in turn determines the need for, and frequency of, testing for these conditions.”
Question 3: Have you or anyone on your side of the family suffered from mental health issues (including dementia)?
Because mental health was not openly discussed in decades gone by, it can often be a a blind spot in our family health history. With increasing evidence finding some mental health issues carrying a genetic risk factor, it’s an important discussion to have. Approaching the topic sensitively, particularly with older people who may still feel awkward discussing it, is essential.
Question 4: When was the last time you saw your GP?
“Men visit their GP less often than women and have shorter appointments which can result in missed opportunities for health screening,” Dr Pyke says. “If you have a GP you value and see regularly (even just once per year for young, healthy men), encourage your male relatives to do likewise.” An annual check up will help stay on top of any changes to key markers of overall health like blood pressure, weight, heartrate and mood. Encourage seeing a GP regularly as part of their preventative health strategy, rather than only visiting when there’s something wrong.
Question 5: What do you wish you’d done differently with your health?
You might be surprised to find your father has regrets about his own health and hopes you’ll take a different approach. Choose your moment to ask what he’d do differently if he had his time again. “Normalising discussions around health can reduce barriers for men accessing healthcare,” Dr Pyke says. You might even find he’s open to making some positive changes to his health, especially if you’re keen to get on board too. Or maybe you’ve already taken action and you could end up setting a good example for dad to take action. “Speaking about activities you include in your life to maintain your health, such as physical activity, a healthy diet, quitting smoking, drinking alcohol within healthy limits, and employing healthy strategies to manage stress, can help encourage these behaviours in others,” Dr Pyke says.