The "Superhero Complex" and how it affects our daily lives should be better understood, according to Sanlam's Dr Calvin Yagan, in honour of Men's Health Awareness Month in November.
The Superhero Complex is a recognised psychological state where a person believes they cannot fail and that they have to ‘fix’ everyone else’s problems.
It happens when someone thinks they are limitless, incapable of being exhausted by anything, and usually have no boundaries. This can manifest in several ways, such as refusing to ask for help out of fear of being judged or appearing incompetent, which usually leads to bigger issues than what was initially the case.
While not specific to men, the superhero complex contributes significantly to the refusal of many men to get routine medical check-ups. The hero cannot initiate change in the world without a change in himself. Hence, why it’s important to realise that without prioritising your own care, you cannot continue taking care of others indefinitely.
Dr Yagan explains that the Superhero Complex is a clinical syndrome defined by the desire or pressure to be perfect. According to him, the pressure to succeed is largely self-imposed and frequently leads to emotions of anxiety and stress that can affect both the mind and the body.
There is a long-standing stereotype that men tend to avoid going to the doctor. In fact, a survey conducted by the Cleveland Clinic found that 65% of men acknowledged delaying going to the doctor as long as possible. It also found that three out of five males had annual physicals, and that nearly half indicated they simply avoid talking about their health.
The importance of a check-up is that it can detect any underlying problems before they become symptoms, which is one of the most important reasons to get one. Early detection of conditions can lead to more effective treatment.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data confirms that women are 33% more likely to visit a doctor, and 100% more likely to maintain screening and preventative care.
According to Sanlam Individual Life’s 2021 claims statistics, in South Africa, 25% of all severe illness cancer claims paid for by men were for prostate cancer. The 2019 National Cancer Registry research indicates that the risk for aggressive prostate cancer is higher in black men.
Prostate cancer can be identified early using simple screening procedures. Including Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood testing and traditional digital rectal examination (DRE)
In 2021, Sanlam’s severe illness claims by men included heart attacks (14%), coronary artery bypass grafts (10%), and strokes (8%).
In South Africa, cardiovascular disease is the primary cause of one in six deaths. Despite the alarming numbers, it is simple to identify and manage the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Heart disease and stroke risk can be considerably reduced by early detection of risk factors such as hypertension, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, cigarette use, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Regular medical check-ups and health screening initiatives mean these risk factors are identified and treated early.
Many superheroes, both real-life ones and the ones we see on television, are prone to mental and emotional health problems. Many men are reluctant to seek help for depression and anxiety because of social stigma that contributes to self-stigma.
Men can exhibit vulnerability without fear of being rejected or judged by others when they demonstrate empathy, according to Nozibusiso Nyawose, clinical psychologist and CEO of Psych Consultancy.
Nyawose advises teaching your children to be aware of changes to their physical bodies and any emotional challenges. She suggests parents encourage kids to ask questions when they see a doctor or dentist because doing so encourages them to take care of their physical and mental health. She goes on to say that children are very perceptive, “when you seek medical help, your behaviour inadvertently gives them permission to do the same.”
Dr Yagan argues that topics like anxiety and depression must be demystified through education and communication.
“Gen Z could be the mold-breakers who challenge and re-imagine the stereotypical male. These young adults have the social and political support to be agile and inclusive in their thinking and actions,” he said.
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