While it is definitely important to take care of one’s physical health, their mental and emotional health cannot be neglected as it contributes to their overall wellbeing. In conjunction with men’s health awareness month this November, Sunway Medical Centre Velocity (SMCV) advocates for men to put their health first, no matter how challenging it may seem.
A 2021 report by Frontiers in Psychiatry revealed that suicide rates have increased significantly for males in Malaysia between 2014 and 2019. The figures showed that there was an average of 5.8 per 100,000 population – which is estimated to be 1,841 suicide deaths annually, with five deaths per day. These numbers are nothing short of alarming and should be taken seriously.
A majority of men are breadwinners of their family and may find it difficult to open up about their struggles relating to physical and mental health. This can lead to illnesses or diseases being left untreated and the worsening of their health.
Dr. Celine Chan Tze Lin, Consultant Psychiatrist from SMCV shared that men who are unable to speak openly about their emotions may find it challenging to recognise symptoms of mental health problems in themselves. Thus, they are less likely to reach out for support and may need the help of others close to them to see the signs.
“Some signs that a friend or family member may have a mental illness and could need your help are feelings of sadness, anxiety, worry, irritability, sleep problems, no longer have interest in their hobbies and do not seem to enjoy anything anymore. When these feelings get very intense, last for a long period of time, and begin to interfere with work, and relationships, it may be a sign of a mental health problem,” she said.
Dr. Celine has noted that having a strong support system for men, and any other patients has many positive benefits, including better coping skills, and reduces depression, anxiety and stress.
“Without a good support system, men may also be more likely to use unhealthy coping methods and less likely to talk to family or friends about their mental health. One way to convince more men to seek help is to make them understand that it is okay to seek help and talk to someone who you trust and cares about you to relieve stress.”
Speaking up about silent killers
Aside from discussing mental health issues, conducting self-checks and seeking treatment for diseases such as cancer can produce a better treatment outcome. Dato’ Dr. Selvalingam Sothilingam, Consultant Urologist from SMCV highlighted that “silent killers,” which refer to cancers that exist and cause minimal symptoms such as prostate and testicular cancer, can be cured if detected early.
“Prostate cancer can be confused with Benign Prostate Hyperplasia (BPH) which is a benign prostate condition affecting most aging men and is far more common than cancer. Testicular cancer, on the other hand, may begin as a small lump in the testis and is more easily detected but can be missed unless a man performs regular testis self-examination,” Dato’ Dr. Selvalingam pointed out.
Both cancers can exist without any symptoms, but there are certain things that men should take into perspective, such as men with a family history of prostate or breast cancer, or men above 50 years old – especially those with lower urinary tract symptoms. These at-risk men should consult their doctor and consider screening for prostate cancer by doing the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) tumour marker test.
For testicular cancer, risk factors include those with small volume testis with infertility, men with a history of undescended testis or certain genetic disorders. Self-examination of the testis is a good way to detect any hardness or lumps in the testis.
“Treatment of early prostate cancer is now safe and less complicated – the evolution of robotic assisted surgery and technological advancements in radiotherapy of the prostate are treatment options that often give good result with reduced side effects.
“As for testicular cancer, the mainstay treatment is surgery to remove the testis, but men will still have the contralateral testis that will continue to produce the male hormone, testosterone, and sperms. The option of sperm banking prior to testicular surgery is also available for men who have yet to reproduce or wishing to complete their family. Early testicular cancer is curable, and the treatment is less costly than in cases of advanced testicular cancer,” Dato’ Dr. Selvalingam highlights.
Help is available
It can be a difficult process to receive a cancer diagnosis, and Dato’ Dr. Selvalingam notes that patients can opt to go for counselling to help them through this period.
“There are established NGOs (non-government organisations) such as the Prostate Cancer Society Malaysia (PCSM) that consist of cancer survivors and can provide new patients with words of advice and encouragement as they can empathise with their condition. PCSM also conduct support groups in various hospitals to address concerns of men who are newly diagnosed with prostate cancer,” Dato’ Dr. Selvalingam concluded.
Dr. Celine, meanwhile, added that hospitals do provide mental health support in their specialised therapy departments in the form of psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and clinical counsellors who can help patients along their journey to recovery.
“Men who are going through cancers such as these will feel down as they are having a medical condition related to the reproductive system. Psychosocial support from the patient’s loved ones, peers, and
healthcare team, alongside regular health check-ups and healthy habits such as exercise has shown to drastically reduce mental health problems – so we should put an emphasis on that,” Dr. Celine said.