Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Getting health in proportion: the No I'm Not Lost Effect

So you’re a practical, generally responsible chap – most of us are. You’re concerned about your health, in a vague sort of way. Most of us are. You don’t want to die, you don’t want to burden to your family, you don’t want to be useless. Most of us don’t.
But you also find the whole health thing a bit of a pain. You’re fed up with everyone telling you to start doing this, and stop doing that. You frankly don’t want to spend your life at the doctor’s surgery: it seems dull, dependent, confusing and might confront you with something that makes your life more complicated than it already is. 
This is what I call the No I’m Not Lost Effect. It’s a cliché, but still perfectly true, that most men would rather have their toenails pulled out with molegrips than stop the car and ask someone for directions if they’re lost. The invention of satnav may have saved men a haranging from women passengers only too willing to acknowledge failure to passers by, but the problem persists in health. 
"For God's sake Amanda, don't ask that man
for directions!"
Men want to find their own way when it comes to keeping healthy. We’d rather do our own own groundwork, find ways of doing things that fit our own lives, decide our own routes and not have to stick what some so-called “expert” says is the proper way.
There’s another cliché about men which is relevant: that we can’t multitask. We like to focus on one thing at a time. The truth is that it is impossible for the average male to absorb, assimilate and implement all the health information fired at us by doctors, health education campaigns, or the media. There’s just too much – or even if there isn’t too much, it seems too much. We don’t want our brains cluttered with stuff which may or may not be relevant to us. 
Clearly, ignoring the opinions of others and concentrating on one thing at a time has its hazards. But I don’t think it’s stupid. I’d say it has its advantages.
What if we built on men's need to control and focus?  Men need to be helped to work out for ourselves what we’re most likely to die of – doctors could do more to help us do that. Because frankly we’re currently being told to worry about too many things that will never, ever effect us.
Each of us will die of something nasty: a single condition. Before that happens, it is possible we will be affected by anything between none (if we’re very lucky) and 20 (if we’re very unlucky) potentially serious conditions. Some of the conditions we get will be completely unpredictable – against the odds and possibly obscure – so there’s little point in trying to predict them. 
But some, and particularly the ones we are likely to die of, are much more predictable.  This is either because of our family history, or because simple statistics reveal how common they are in men.
As a society, we’re very bad at helping men get things into proportion in this way. I’ll be trying to help in posts that follow.