It has long been known that men are less likely to seek medical care and engage in health-supporting behaviors than are women. But the gap has been narrowing in recent years as more men take responsibility for their health.
One group where this "health gap" has not changed is male military veterans. As we begin the process of reintegrating the soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, this is going to become an issue, considering the higher rates of PTSD and other health issues already being recorded.
Part of the problem with military personnel and health-supporting behaviors is that men who are drawn to serve are more likely to embrace traditional masculinity values, and admitting one needs help does not fit that value set. Further, there is a serious and overt stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment. in particular, in the armed forces. It can make one an outsider, but it can also impact assignments and promotions.
The recent study showed that men who identify most with traditional values of masculinity - toughness, aggression, and achievement - were less likely to engage in activities to support their health and experienced higher rates of PTSD. These men also tend to believe that "real men" don't pay much attention to emotions, which may contribute to their higher rates of PTSD.
The APA Monitor reports a new study that examines the link between masculinity values and health-supporting behaviors:
Male veterans who conform to traditional ideas of masculinity visit their physicians less often and exhibit other negative health behaviors, suggests research conducted at the University of Mississippi. The study found that male veterans who identified more with toughness, aggression and achievement were less likely to seek medical care, exercise and eat right, and had more post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms than those who identified less with stereotypical masculinity. The men who said that "real men" don't think much about emotions were less adept at recognizing and coping with their own, perhaps making them more vulnerable to PTSD. (Psychology of Men & Masculinity, April)
Unfortunately, the article is behind the usual pay-wall, so here is the abstract:
Morrison, Jay A.Psychology of Men & Masculinity, Vol 13(2), Apr 2012, 158-165. doi: 10.1037/a0024186Male veterans ( n = 197) completed an abbreviated version of the Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory (CMNI; Mahalik et al., 2003), the Masculine Gender Role Stress Scale (MGRS; Eisler & Skidmore, 1987), the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist–Military Version (PCL–M; Weathers, Huska, & Keane, 1991), and a measure of cardiac-related health behaviors. Hierarchical multiple-regression procedures were followed to test hypothesized main and interaction effects. The interaction between conformity to masculine norms and symptoms of possible posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the prediction of health behaviors was significant, Δ F(1, 191) = 6.05, Δ R² = .03, p = .015, and was replicated in a subsample of men scoring above the recommended cut-off for possible PTSD in veteran populations on the PCL–M ( n = 32). The Emotional Inexpressiveness subscale of the MGRS was uniquely associated with probable PTSD symptom severity ( r = .49, p = .005), suggesting that emotional inexpressiveness associated with the male gender role may contribute to the failure of emotional processing relevant to the etiology and maintenance of PTSD.